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While Black Friday was bad news for PokerStars, FullTiltpoker and a couple of other brands, it was really good news for small online poker networks still offering pay for play tables to USA players. Quite how they have managed to remain open, and not be closed down by the DoJ is a mystery to us, but operate they still do.
The Cake Poker Network has improved traffic by 25%, Chico Poker Network has reported a 29% increase in traffic, the Winning Poker Network is up by 24%, and the Merge Poker network is the winner, with improved business of 84%. We have to bear in mind that online poker play in the USA has declined by 30% overall, but Merge Poker has happily stepped in, and filled the gap left over by the big poker brands which were taken out of business by Black Friday.
Currently Bodog – the brand operated by Calvin Ayre, is also being pursued – accused of fraud and money laundering by the DoJ. The Cereus Network has also suffered substantially, but while US authorities concentrate on Calvin Ayre, and his confiscated Canadian domain, the rest still get away with continuing to operate online. Bodog has lost a significant amount of ground since the indictments, and traffic has dropped by 13% overall since the domain name was seized.
Here we also have to bear in mind that Bodog has UK and European operating licenses. Bodog does not seem to be overly concerned by the drop in traffic, because the effects of Black Friday initially put their numbers over the top, so, this fact offsets any current losses. The numbers remain positive for Bodog – they are up 39% year on year, and although the Merge Poker Network still does well for the USA marketplace, PokerStars still dominates in World marketplaces overall. Globally numbers reflect that they have increased traffic by 17% year on year. Bwin.party digital entertainment also saw a 13% increase, and this brand also only operates in non-USA markets. The iPoker Network (Playtech) grew by 8%.
Merge Gaming network basically provides a platform for all players from sites such as Lock Poker, Carbon Poker, Poker Host, Aced, Poker View, RPM Poker and Poker Nordica. One of the key factors for winning success for both players and online poker sites is liquidity, which means the amount of players online in specific cash games and tournaments at the same time. A poker network obviously offers better liquidity than a standalone poker site. The only true standalone sites with massive liquidity are brands such as PokerStars, Bwin.Party and other operators in the same or a similar league.
The rise of the ‘poker network’ has changed the face of online poker in the past few years. It offers more competition against the big names, and therefore bigger better prize money. Although the poker network has not been able to level the playing field as far as competition is concerned – against PokerStars – for example; it has certainly prevented some attrition for the smaller online poker brands.