The Merge Gaming Network has had more than its fair share of payment processing issues post Black Friday. Current player reports indicate that times have improved dramatically. So what happened and are the swift payout times here to stay?
The Merge Gaming Network and its prominent skins such as Carbon Poker, Sportsbook dot com, and Players Only have been under fire throughout most of 2015. And rightfully so. The payout situation became quite untenable during this period. Normal bank draft payout times for US players was promised at 3-5 weeks. Prior to February 2015, things were rocking and rolling with average payout times even more swift than the low end estimate of three weeks. ROW players were enjoying max payouts to Skrill within 2-3 business days. Then it all fell apart.
Suddenly payout times spiked up. At first there was no cause for concern however. Seasonally, payment processing times increasing around the Super Bowl are actually quite common. The standard reasoning for this seems to be related to the sheer volume of money flowing into, and subsequently out of, real money USA online poker sites. This massive influx of deposits and withdrawals tends to saturate some 3rd party payment processors payment channels. This phenomenon has been observed year after year at many online gaming sites, however, at least as far as the US-friendly sites are concerned, Merge usually has larger slowdowns than its competitors. But history had shown us that after a couple months, things tended to return to normal as the glut of deposits and withdrawals cleared through the systems in place, and everyone went about their merry way.
This time, things were different. Payout times started their normal, predictable decline in speed. The sites on Merge Gaming all changed their payout terms from 3-5 weeks to 6-8 weeks. Again, no problem, so long as you pay! And they did have a 10 year plus history of paying all players, so again, no worries. However, the 6-8 week payout times started to slip. There was a brief flutter of payouts that gave us false hope that things were back on track, and then payment times got worse. How much worse? Well, payouts for US players, by check, drug out to approximately 12-16 weeks, or twice the stated time-frames! Then the big bomb dropped. Skrill was removed as a payment processor for non-US players. This sparked quite a fire.
Players were furious! Forums all across the Internet were yelling bloody murder as players continued to report 3 and 4 month wait times for checks. Some ROW players had no alternative other than Skrill for withdrawal and were stuck with funds on the site. Many posters went so far as to call the network a Ponzi Scheme, fearing that player funds were not separate and that the site was near insolvent. Players were offering to sell their funds for 50 cents on the dollar, unfortunately, there was no P2P system (we'd have loaded up and made a fortune). It turns out that even affiliates weren't being paid either and some started to flex their marketing muscles to market against the network and this helped facilitate the spread of unsubstantiated rumors. This situation dragged on until approximately Q4 2015.
Then some good things began to happen. ROW players without withdrawal methods were offered bank wires. Many of those players with multi-month pending, and canceled, Skrill withdrawals received a max bank wire once they signed up for wire withdrawals. And some players started to be offered bitcoin privately by the Merge Cashier. Players that took advantage of this began to get swift payouts, at least relatively speaking. However, just as things were looking up a bit, bitcoin disappeared from player wallets. The trolls and haters came back out in full force! And who could blame them, they'd been strung along for half a year by a company who does not have a Public Relations department. You read correctly, Merge does not communicate with its player base publicly. No press releases, no forum representatives, nada. All players had to go on were mainly cut-n-paste emails from support staff which were being plastered over and over on the Internet message boards.
Fast forward another month or so and bitcoin returned, this time, en masse. Bank wires opened up to many more players also. Money began to flow, and some of these were US players who had been given new options other than check withdrawals. Cash transfer options were being offered to low balance withdrawals instead of checks, and these began to come in swiftly. Then more bad stuff happened. A bunch of winning regulars got banned from the network. Without debating the merit of a decision like this, we will say that it did help show further promise that the network was solvent. Why do you ask? Because those players being booted were getting 20k/week in payouts until their balances were completely paid out!
And now here we are in early February 2016. Virtually every payout reported by players in the last 11 weeks has been back below the stated 6-8 week time frame for checks. In fact, most reported checks are right at the 4 week mark from the moment of request to check in hand. Bank wires up to $5,000 are being processed in approximately 1-2 weeks. Payments denominated in bitcoins, equivalent to up to $5,000 USD are being sent out in similar time frames. Cash transfers of up to $1,000 are resulting in "cash in hand" in approximately 1 week. And for some players, Skrill is back online, and thus those players can cash out $5,000 - $10,000 at will, with the payout coming less than a handful of days later. All of this is great news! But will the network recover its former glory? Unfortunately, probably not.
Player trust was damaged severely. It's hard to go to any public forum on the Internet and not hear someone mention how slow the payout times are at Merge Gaming. Or say what a "scam" and "shady site" it is.
The banning of big winning players is also worth considering. The player pool that is left is soft, but who can access it, and for how long before they get the old banstick? The good news at least, is that if you managed to win enough to get banned, you'll be paid out in full on everything you managed to win. And speaking of the player pool, it's been damaged considerably. What was once solidly the number 2 US-friendly network is now in 4th place, with the newly named Horizon Network quickly approaching. The Sunday Major, once the largest regular guarantee available to American players was at $150,000 before this debacle. It is now a shell of its former self with a $50,000 USD guarantee. We don't think the player traffic will return, and we think Merge is probably fine with that. It seems that they wish to concentrate more on their sports and casino business, with poker more or less an after-thought.
We sincerely hope that Merge comes to its senses one day and allows poker players back into its gaming establishment, because they have the best software in the US-market. But if they do, we hope that management makes some changes to how it communicates with players, how it treats winning players, and hey, how it treats us as loyal rakeback affiliates!