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Carbon Poker Gives Winning Players the Boot

Carbon Poker Logo

Carbon Poker, on the Merge Gaming Network, has recently resurrected one of the unsavory tactics from its past: banning winning players. Beginning around March of this year, this latest wave of restrictions has affected both relatively new customers as well as those who have been playing at the Merge Gaming Network for years. It's not known what the exact criteria are for determining whom to ban, but it seems that the network is targeting those with a history of winning play over several months.

Details of the Account Restrictions

Not Allowed Circle and Bar

Carbon is prohibiting certain players from accessing the poker room. They can still bet on sports or play casino games, which is one of the key pieces of evidence pointing to the fact that it's the players' poker talent that's relevant in this situation. If the reasons for the restrictions were bonus abuse or cheating, then these players would most likely be banned across the whole product suite at Merge rather than just poker. Some individuals have stated on a thread at Twoplustwo.com that they weren't prohibited from poker altogether but rather prevented from playing more than a few tables at a time. The lowest cap implemented appears to be a max of two tables open at once.

Adding insult to injury, the affected players are still subject to the normal fees that Carbon applies to withdrawals. So not only is Carbon declaring winning regs to be persona non grata, but it is actually forcing them to pay for the privilege of getting their money back! Even Bitcoin transactions, which should cost the firm no more than a few dollars each to process, incur fees of 5% of the amount paid out. After being thrown off the poker site, twoplustwoer “The Muffin Man” reported receiving an email from Carbon containing details of a “100% POKER RELOAD BONUS.” Now, that's just rubbing salt in the wound.

Why Is Carbon Poker Exiling Winners?

Hundred Dollar Bill

This new policy by Carbon is undoubtedly a clumsy attempt to protect its recreational users, particularly lucrative sports bettors, from handing their bankrolls over to more savvy adversaries at the poker tables. Other poker sites have also taken steps to protect less experienced players, like Ignition Poker with its anonymized gameplay and PokerStars, which no longer has normal heads-up tables. What most of these measures have in common is that they permit professionals to still ply their trade albeit with a decreased edge.

Carbon's actions are different from those of its competitors because they prevent some individuals from playing poker altogether. This is a self-defeating course to take because once the most skilled individuals are eliminated, slightly less profitable players will see their winrates increase. They will then occupy the same role that the now-banned individuals had, and so nothing will have been permanently achieved unless Carbon eliminates these new winners as well and continues doing so in the future. This never-ending spiral is a recipe for reduced player counts, lower poker revenue, and dissatisfied customers.

Merge Network History

Books

From the time Carbon Poker joined with Poker.com to create the Merge Network in 2007, it was a reputable place for players from the United States and all over the world to enjoy card games. While it wasn't the largest poker room around, it certainly had a friendly, welcoming vibe and unique promotions that its loyal players enjoyed. In 2010, Sportsbook.com and PlayersOnly.com (both skins operated by Jazette) switched from the Cake Network over to Merge, vastly increasing its size.

When Black Friday occurred in April 2011, stranded U.S. players had to look for a new poker home, and many of them chose Merge. With a large player pool, soft competition, and profitable promotional specials, it stepped into the void created by the departure of PokerStars, Full Tilt, and Absolute Poker from the American poker scene. Merge became the largest U.S.-friendly poker network, and its future seemed rosy.

However, these enviable circumstances would soon deteriorate. Skins began to poach players from each other and offer under-the-table rakeback deals that broke network rules. Notwithstanding its popularity, the network's revenues started to fall. Jazette Enterprises (owners of Sportsbook.com and PlayersOnly) came to some kind of financial arrangement with the network to provide much-needed capital. It's not clear how the equity stakes were divvied up, but Jazette began to take an increasing role in the decisions of the network from 2012 onwards.

Unfortunately, Jazette is mainly a sportsbook operator that views its poker division as a marginal sideline at best. It has taken several steps that irritated the poker player base and made it more difficult for them to sustain long-term play. These dubious moves included:

  • Removal of player-to-player transfer ability (Nov. 2012)
  • Termination of the rakeback program and replacement with a VIP scheme (Feb. 2013)
  • First reports of winning players being banished (Nov. 2013)
  • Ending of VIP rewards (July 2014)
  • Closure of the affiliate program (June 2015)
  • Removal of stud, draw, and mixed games (Oct. 2015)
  • Discontinuation of cash leaderboard competitions (Jan. 2017)
  • Latest round of expelling winning players (March 2017 to present)

Merge Gaming Network Today

Downward Trending Graph

The result of all these questionable decisions has been a continuous shrinking of player traffic. From being the #1 U.S. network post-Black Friday, Merge is now in fifth place. According to numbers from Pokerscout.com, there is an average of only 160 cash game players online, making Carbon barely one-seventh the size of market leader Ignition Poker. Even WSOP.com's DE/NV site, which is only open to players in two states, is larger than Merge.

There's more to worry about here than just a company that neglects poker to focus on sports though. Bodog/Bovada/Ignition does the same thing, more or less, but they're a top-rated bookie with a history of honest and speedy payouts. CarbonSports, on the other hand, is rated D- by Sportsbookreview.com, and there have been many times during the past decade when customers have had to endure multi-month waits before receiving their cashouts. You can check out the current status of Carbon Poker withdrawal timeframes by looking at Professional Rakeback's own U.S. offshore poker sites payout report, which is updated monthly.

While it's too early to definitively say for sure that Merge and Carbon are destined for complete failure, the signs aren't looking good. Dwindling traffic, an uncongenial environment for winners, and excessive fees levied on withdrawals combine to paint an unfavorable picture. If you'd rather be safe than sorry, it might be time to transfer your roll to another site. Take a look at our list of poker sites open to Americans, and find one that suits your tastes.