In a huge story that was recently released by subjectpoker.com, the US Department of Justice seems to have decided to take action against the Merge Gaming Network. The US Attorney’s Office of the District of Maryland has been said to be planning to seize assets of the payment processors who had played a role in the transactions that occurred between the Merge Network and their US based online poker players. There have been no specific processors to this point who have pointed out as the ones who will be under fire, and there have also been no statements as to whether indictments will come along with these seizures. We’ve contacted all of our sources and none can corroborate this story.
While the Merge Network is currently one of the best online poker options for US based poker players, they have attempted to avoid issues with the US Department of Justice in the past. Back on May 24th they decided to stop accepting US players, which seemed to be a step in that direction; but it was unknown as whether they did this to follow the anti-gambling laws in the United States, or whether it was due to an incredible amount of new sign-ups and the fact that Merge needed to catch up on payouts to current players.
In the end though, Merge is still allowing US based poker players, and allowing them to play for real money; which means that they have not followed the DOJ’s interpretation of the UIGEA. It is unknown currently when these seizures will actually happen, if at all now. They were originally planned for mid to late September, but it could really be any time before or after that time frame. The idea has also been thrown out by subjectpoker.com that the DOJ may actually not even follow through with this plan since it has been released to the public.
As of now, there is really nothing that US players can do. Even if you play on the Merge Network and are looking to withdraw your money off of the site, it could take over a month to get your payment sent to you. So this essentially means that you would not have your withdrawal processed before the seizures actually occur, which would leave you in a tough spot. In reality, a withdrawal could actually move the money of an online poker player into the reach of the DOJ since they are targeting the payment processors themselves. So in the end, it’s very unlikely that withdrawing money off of a Merge Network site will avoid issues of your money being locked up in the end, and instead it could leave you with multiple delays.
It is currently unknown if the Merge Gaming Network will keep funds in segregated accounts, and if this is the case then the segregated accounts may not be in jeopardy of being seized. While places like the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York have stated that they are not seizing segregated accounts and that they are still encouraging sites to repay their players; the Maryland USAO has been much less sympathetic to players, and has not made any statements similar to the ones above. This leaves quite a bit of doubt as to what would happen to players’ funds if the Maryland USAO did move forward with this.
If you visit a Merge Network online poker site, you’ll find that most of their sites have moved to country code top-level domains, which are based out of either the European Union, or Antigua. The regular .com domain names are redirected now to websites that are not affiliated with the United States. There have also been thoughts thrown around that a site could avoid DOJ actions by restricting the United States based players to specific states, and it is unclear if this is possible.
The Merge Network is licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission which requires no fund segregation. But, this network received a letter of intent to be able to secure a license from Malta’s Lotteries and Gaming Authority. The Merge Network has recently been added to the LGA’s list of class four licensees, and some of their main merge skins (such as Lock, Carbon, and Hero Poker) have all added the LGA logo. The reason why this is important, is because the LGA has very strict policies when it comes to the segregation of funds. Neither Merge nor LGA has confirmed the new license, and LGA even stated that Lock Poker was not licensed by them.
This story has drawn quite a bit of attention as of late, and we were glad that Subject: Poker was able to cover this story very early on. All poker players throughout the United States will have their eyes locked on this situation with the Merge Gaming Network, but only time will tell what will happen with one of the few poker networks that allows US players still.