In a move seemingly linked to the Black Friday events of 1 month ago, Merge Poker Network announced today that poker players in New York State will no longer be able to sign up new accounts to play real money poker. Already existing New York state accounts at Merge will not be affected, and will still be allowed to deposit real money and play at Merge as usual.
One month ago, April 15th, 2011, the United States Department of Justice seized the domain names of the big three US online poker providers, Full Tilt, PokerStars, and UB/Absolute Poker. This day, popularly known as “Black Friday” was a historic day in poker, even though it’s real significance for online poker in the US remains unclear. For the tinfoil hat crowd, Black Friday represents the death knell of online poker. To the unabashed optimist, Black Friday is a step towards the quick and easy legalization of online poker in the United States. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Merge’s blocking of New York state sign-ups is telling us one more time what we already know, online poker is changing, and there is no looking back. PokerStars paid out its American customers last week, exited the American market, and it’s unclear if/when they will return to the United States.
Meanwhile Full Tilt and AP/UB are still holding player funds as American players wait anxiously for news and updates. The silver lining is that for international players, which make up an estimated 70% of PokerStars traffic, it’s business as usual.
Why would Merge stop servicing New York State poker players, and why now? There are two particulars about New York State that are likely related to Merge’s move to disallow new sign-ups. Firstly, charges are often filed in regions of the country where the local populace has a vested interest to see the case unfavorably, based on community standards. For example drug smuggling cases tend to be brought up in Southern Florida, obscenity charges are often filed in the bible belt in the southern states, and immigration law violations are often brought up in Southern California and border states.
Likewise, New York State, as a major financial hub, is known to be a district of prosecuting white collar crime and money laundering. So it appears that Merge network is trying to learn from the mistakes of Full Tilt, PokerStars and AP/UB, by avoiding any perceived violation of the UIGEA, which though vaguely worded, makes it illegal for banks to process “gambling transactions.”
The second reason why Merge may be blocking New York sign-ups, is because New York State, along with Oregon and Washington, are three of the states with restrictive laws towards online poker. By ceasing new accounts in New York State, Merge is making a statement to the government that they are different, and are making efforts to play by the rules. Remember, where the previous big online poker sites allegedly went wrong is by undertaking illegal monetary transactions in order to get players quick payouts. There are few if any laws against playing online poker itself.
For the time being, Merge seems to have found a better way to operate an online poker site servicing Americans. It’s business as usual at Merge Poker. Merge is currently offering plenty of new promotions, including sign up bonuses, free tournaments entries, and rakeback until up until June 1st 2011.