Last October I reviewed the status of the U.S.-facing online poker networks. Quite a bit has changed since then.
Bodog is now Bovada. I have installed the new software, and confirmed that they carried my balance over, but have not yet played there. I'm not thrilled about the anonymous table innovation. But I'm sure one of these days I'll see what it's like.
The Merge network is still going strong. After running through the initial $100 deposit I had made on the Black Chip Poker skin, I didn't do any more with it for a few months. Then Josie announced that she was going to restart her Very Josie poker series there (which didn't last long, because the site had stupid restrictions that severely cut into the fun factor), and Tony was frequently tweeting and blogging about winning money there. So I decided to give it another chance.
Unfortunately, I couldn't make a deposit. I tried all of my credit and debit cards (including a Visa gift card I purchased just for that purpose), and all were rejected, even though I had used one of them to make my first deposit without any problem. My guess is that this was a policy change with the credit card issuers, not with the site, because the site continues to list Visa cards as a method of deposit, even for U.S. players. But Tony's credit card still works to deposit there, and he was kind enough to let me give him cash to make a deposit and then transfer the credit to me, which worked just fine. I've been playing there more lately, and making a little profit at it. I started with $200, and I'm playing in sufficient small amounts that it would take a pretty severe downswing for me to need to deposit again.
The Everleaf network withdrew from the U.S. market in February this year. I still had about $79 sitting on the Luvin Poker site. They had given me fits trying to withdraw it, and I had basically given up, when that announcement came. They promised that deposited funds were safe, and they were going to get us our money back real soon. But it's been four months, and there has been no further word. I wrote to Luvin's customer support a few days ago, and got what basically amounts to a bedbug letter:
I see you have around 56 Euros on LP (they converted the US dollars). The money is still in your account and funds have not ben seized. ELG is working with the Maltese Gaming Commission trying to find a way to release funds. Due to the law in the US, every method they have inquired about has been shot down, including player to player transfer to our friends who can cash out. The Gaming authorities feel it would essentially be money laundering if we were to process these funds. We are even looking at hiring a mediator to retrieve funds. Again, this does you no good, but if you log into your account you will see funds there. They assure me monies are safe and I do believe that, but unfortunately no further news on how to retrieve them. Currently players who have bank accounts off shore are allowed to cash out and they are looking for alternatives. I am saving your Email, so I will be sure to update you if anything changes.
LP truly hopes to have a place in the future once legislation comes through. Although this does not solve the problem, please know our brand reputation is very important to me and if at all possible, those funds will be returned.
My sincere apologies.
As the saying goes, I'm not holding my breath.
The Yatahay network has some of my money, as mentioned in the October post, due to the skin called "America's Cardroom" taking over what had been the "Doyle's Room" accounts, when Doyle decided that he didn't want anything to do with online poker anymore. I played one $5 SNG the other day on my new computer just to make sure that the software was working, balance still there, etc. I don't know what, if anything, I'll do with the $200+ that I have sitting there.
The network, incidentally, has taken on a new name. It's now the "Winning Poker Network." Admittedly, "Yatahay" was a terrible name, but the new one is just as bad, although for different reasons.
Finally, there is the Cake network. Recently, Lock Poker, which was one of the biggest skins on the Merge network, left Merge and joined Cake. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that they took over Cake, and in the process have changed the name to the Revolution Gaming Network. (Read more about the whole deal here.)
I got a Cake account when it first came on the market, but I think I just played a few free games to test it out and never put any money there. Essentially all of my play on the Cake network was when Doyle's Room was one of their skins, before DR moved to Yatahay. (Yes, it's all very confusing--like a corporate soap opera.) I haven't wanted to do more with it because of recurring stories of what sound to me like shady goings-on at Lock, and persistent problems reported for U.S. players getting timely cashouts from Cake.
But yesterday my friend Stacey, who has been a much more serious online player than I, tweeted that she had played a few low-stakes tournaments on the new Lock site: "Verdict thus far: @lockpoker software is meh but players are terrible, decent schedule, a lot of it copies the Merge schedule so, not bad!" Then, a little later, "Ok the new @lockpoker is earning MAJOR points w/ me. Sent account verification docs to them less than 3 hrs ago. Already approved by support."
This made me think that maybe I should give the network another try. I knew I already had an account on the Cake skin (i.e., what had previously been the flagship skin), so rather than go through creating a new account with Lock, I just downloaded the new Cake software and reactivated that account. The cashier page said that they accepted Visa for deposits, and that debit cards tended to have better success rates than credit cards, so I used my U.S. Bank Visa check card, crossed my fingers, and *ding* about 60 seconds later I had $100 of credit on the site, with no fees deducted. So far so good.
I signed up for a $7 SNG just to try it out. Here's what it looks like:
It has annoying sound effects, but you can turn them off. They don't make it easy to find options and settings, but I eventually discovered how to shift the seats around to my preferred orientation, turn on the four-color deck feature, and other tweaks.
Good Lord, were these players ever terribad! In one fairly early hand, I had Q-3 offsuit in the small blind. Nobody raised, so I limped in with the rest. Flop was Q-4-3. I meant to lead out with a bet of about 3/4 of the pot, but accidentally clicked the wrong button and went all in. That shove was for about ten times the pot. Oops! Oh well, I thought--I'll pick up the limpers' chips and that will be the end of it. But no--I got a caller, "NanasVice," who had me covered. She had Q-J, for top pair with mediocre kicker, and I doubled up. I saw players with 7 BB stacks limp in, then fold to a raise. I saw one spew off a stack of 30 big blinds calling a flop shove in a limped pot with just a gutshot and backdoor flush draw. Horrible, horrible, horrible.
I was doing some other work while I played, so only giving it half attention, and still cruised into second place money.
And you'll be glad to know that the Mighty Deuce-Four works just as well on Cake as it does everywhere else:
I am still cautious and skeptical about the reliability of this new entity, as it combines a network chronically problematic in terms of cashing out (Cake) with a site that has a history of shady-looking conduct (Lock). So my tentative plan is to try to work this $100 up to $200, then cash out $100, and see how well they handle it, before I increase my level of comfort and confidence in them. But the softness of the games--assuming my one sample is representative--makes it hard to just turn my back on them completely.
Of course, we could at any time get a repeat of Black Friday, with assets frozen indefinitely across all of these sites. Or any of them could suddenly abscond with the players' funds, or declare bankruptcy, or whatever. Thanks to our endlessly effed-up laws and government in what used to be the "land of the free," this is all quasi-black-market stuff, with every site using unknown and probably legally dubious means of moving money between them and us. It's all still kind of a house of, um, cards.
But with increasing frequency lately there are evenings when I don't feel much like going out to casinos to play, and having online options is a nice alternative. I'd happily trade all four of the small, rickety choices I have now for one usable cash account at PokerStars, but the gummint says I can't have that, so I'll take what I can get.