Merge Gaming Network Instituting Single Account Policy
The Merge Gaming Network is an online poker network that likes to fiddle with its policies. In doing so – frequently – it tends to adjust things in the house’s favor, to the detriment of the player. Whether it is elimination of rakeback or the destruction of its loyalty program, the Merge customer is not usually the one who gets to jump for joy. And now it appears that another policy change is occurring, one that isn’t terrible for Merge customers, but one that is still not particularly great for them, either.
According to a report by ProfessionalRakeback.com (ProfRB.com, as they call themselves), the Merge Gaming Network is limiting players to just one account network-wide, effective immediately. There are currently more than 20 poker sites on the network; players will now be restricted to an account on only one of them. It is not known if the players will get to choose which account stays or if the network will make the decision. It could conceivably go either way: it would be easy enough to just let the player choose and then have all funds sent over to the surviving account or Merge could decide that accounts will be consolidated into the first poker room for which a player signed up.
This move shouldn’t have too much of an impact on a player’s basic gaming experience on the Merge Gaming Network, as all the member rooms are naturally nearly identical. From a simple poker playing standpoint, it will not matter to a player whether he is playing on Carbon Poker or, say, GeoBet. The tables, the players, the tournaments, they are all the same either way.
Where this will disappoint players – and is likely a big reason for the business decision – is in the elimination of “bonus hopping.” For those new to online poker or simply unfamiliar with the concept, bonus hopping is the practice of depositing with one poker room to receive a bonus, playing through the requirements to convert said bonus into cash, and then repeating the process at another poker room. It is particularly easy to do on rooms that reside on the same network, as there is absolutely no learning curve at the new room when it comes to banking, bonus structure, active games, and the like.
Bonus hopping was a particularly lucrative practice back when online poker exploded from 2004 to 2006 (perhaps dating back to farther, especially when the “Moneymaker Effect” started in 2003, but I only started playing in 2004). I can tell you from personal experience that it was especially amazing for someone like me, a low-stakes (micro-stakes, even), average skilled player. Back then, bonuses were often both large and VERY easy to unlock. As an example, I might deposit $200 at Poker Room ABC and get a 100% bonus that required maybe five or seven raked hands (dealt, not contributed) per dollar and was released in ten dollar increments. Once I made it through that, which could be done in as little as a day if I was really dedicated (though more likely a few days), I would withdraw all my funds, which hopefully included the original $200 plus the $200 bonus plus winnings, or at worst my original $200 plus a sizable portion of the bonus, to my Neteller account and then, as soon as the funds were available, deposit with Poker Room XYZ to take advantage of another bonus. If I was smart, I would have extra funds set to go so I wouldn’t have to wait for the cash out to process.
The cycle continued like that. Poker rooms constantly had reload bonuses, so there was almost never a time where there wasn’t somewhere to bonus hop. And doing it on the same network was really easy, for reasons already explained. Bonus hopping could make a low stakes player like me some good money in a hurry. When I’m playing $0.50/$1 Fixed-Limit, $25 No-Limit, or $5 Sit & Go’s, being able to rake in bonus that could be anywhere from $100 to $500 was fantastic, even if I lost some of my original deposit.
The flip side of this is that bonus hopping can be bad for the poker rooms. Poker rooms got into the rut of competing with bonuses (and eventually rakeback), which really did nothing to foster any sort of customer loyalty. Want to snatch players away from your competitor? Offer a larger, easier to release bonus. Problem is, when they’re done with that, they’ll move on to the next poker room. That is, unless you offer an attractive reload. But in the end, the customer really isn’t compelled to stay to just play poker unless you are forking over a chunk of your profits. For poker networks, poaching was rampant. A player on, Merge, for instance, might be attracted to the network by Carbon Poker, but after some time gets swooped up by GR88.com because GR88 has a rad new bonus. The player can keep playing on the network, but does not have to be loyal to his original poker room.
Theoretically, bonus hopping could help a network because if the member rooms all offer attractive bonuses, players could be compelled to at least stay on the network. It is not really a sustainable business practice, though.
The Equity Poker Network, which launched last year, remedied the inter-network poaching problem not by restricting the number of accounts a player could have on the network, but rather by awarding a player’s revenue stream to the poker site that original got the signup, no matter what site that customer is actually playing on at any given time. So while bonus hopping or rakeback chasing isn’t necessarily eliminated, this simple solution has likely at least reigned it in somewhat and allowed the member rooms to focus on more effective ways to retain players.
ProfRB.com also believes that this decision from the Merge Gaming Network may have been a cost-cutting move, as costs from processing withdrawals will be reduced. And, with fewer bonuses to pay out, the network could, presumably use that money for other promotions to benefit players. Presumably.