Archive for May, 2016

Merge Gaming Restricts New U.S. Players

 Merge Gaming Restricts New U.S. Players

merge gaming logo 300x240 Merge Gaming Restricts New U.S. PlayersMerge Gaming stopped accepting new U.S. players, according to players and two site representatives.  The U.S. country option was removed from the new account form last week at Carbon Poker, PlayersOnly, and SuperBook.  The decision affects the poker platform, casino games and sports betting products.

The policy may not be a permanent one, as noted by one representative’s response and past Merge Gaming actions.  Players with an existing account on Merge Gaming will be permitted to stay on the network.

Merge Gaming First Restricted New U.S. Players in 2011

In May 2011, PlayersOnly, and SuperBook stopped accepting new U.S. players.  Carbon Poker followed in June 2011.

At the time, Merge Gaming was the largest U.S.-facing online poker network.  This was due to the influx of players after Black Friday forced PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Cereus out of the U.S. market.  It was thought at the time that the decision to block new U.S. signups was due to processing limitations created by the massive growth of Merge Gaming over a short period of time.

U.S. players that already had accounts at Merge Gaming were not affected by that decision.  This policy lasted until October when Merge Gaming reopened its doors to new American players.

Merge Gaming Withdrawal Speeds Improved Over 2015

The decision to stop new U.S. players comes at a time when Merge Gaming cashouts are processed at the best speeds in nearly 18 months.  Check withdrawal times exceeded three months during most of 2015.  Checks now arrive in about one month.  Bitcoin withdrawals are available to many players.  Those are processed in about two or three days.

Affiliate Payments Ending Soon

Merge Gaming closing to U.S. players is not the only recent news to come out of the network.  The affiliate programs related to Merge Gaming skins will stop paying commission to partners at the end of June.  Merge Gaming affiliate programs have not accepted new player since May 2015.  Affiliates were paid on existing players for more than a year after the program closed.

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Israeli Software Company Creates Facial Recognition Program, Uses It To Identify Professional Poker Players

 Israeli Software Company Creates Facial Recognition Program, Uses It To Identify Professional Poker Players

In this day and age, there are many things or people that we would like to be able to identify simply from their appearance. From judging whether someone has donned a disguise to more sinister implications, such identification would be critical for particular situations. A software company in Israel says it has developed a facial recognition software that they claim can identify terrorists and pedophiles, proving it by identifying…poker players.

According to Yahoo! Tech writer Dyllan Furness, The Israeli company Faception (which is a startup that is currently looking for funding) has developed this software and demonstrated it at an unnamed poker tournament. Yahoo! states that the software analyzed 50 amateur players that were in the tournament and, after comparing them to a database of poker professionals, picked four players that the software determined would excel in the event. Of those four players, two of them – amateurs, mind you – made the final table and would finish in the top three positions (it is not stated whether they won or not).

The theory that Faception’s software runs off is that facial profiling is supported by two genetic research observations, Furness says. DNA affects a person’s personality and also determines their facial features. Putting these two “genetic expressions” together and having a viable database to work from, the facial recognition software determines who has the potential to become whatever they company is searching for…be it poker pros, serial killers, geniuses or terrorists. The program has 15 different classifiers in its system and, according to its creators at Faception, the software is 80% accurate with its predictions.

There are some problems with the system that are pointed out, however. The determinations from the facial recognition software are only as good as the data that is put into the system (otherwise known as “garbage in, garbage out” or GIGO). The computer program is, after all, using an algorithm to qualify its decisions. There is an example of a computer program that correctly differentiated between wolves and dogs; it was quite proficient in its task, but the researchers found an error that led them to believe that the software wasn’t “differentiating” the two creatures – the computer program learned by identifying snow in the background of photos that it was more likely a wolf than a dog, which normally aren’t photographed in the snow.

The Washington Post’s Matt McFarland also looked into Faception’s work and potentially revealed further issues. “Can I predict that you’re an ax murderer by looking at your face and therefore I should arrest you?” said Pedro Domingos, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington and author of “The Master Algorithm.” “You can see how this would be controversial.” Domingos also pointed out that the software program may focus on one particular trait – such as a beard – and develop inaccurate predictions from such information.

The folks at Faception do not seem to be fazed by the naysayers, however. “We understand the human much better than other humans understand each other,” a Faception chief executive, Shai Gilboa, boasted to McFarland. “Our personality is determined by our DNA and reflected in our face. It’s a kind of signal.” They also state that they have a signed deal with an undisclosed security agency that will use the software to fight terrorism.

It might have been a joke previously – how all the great poker players were named Phil, for example, or they all were successful backgammon players – but what if there is something to the Faception theory and their software? Could we be identified by our faces, with them dictating what our future course may be from an examination of its contours? Or is it just another “snake oil” sales gimmick by a company to attempt to fool people?

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Québec Budget Bill Passes, Gambling Site Blacklist May Follow

 Québec Budget Bill Passes, Gambling Site Blacklist May Follow

The Canadian province of Québec passed its budget bill, Bill 74, two weeks ago, an occurrence that would not normally be of much interest to us to anyone outside of Québec. This time, though, things are a bit different, as included in said budget was an authorization for the province to require internet service providers (ISP’s) to block all online gambling sites that are not expressly licensed by the government. This isn’t simply a situation in which unlicensed sites are considered illegal; this is the provincial government mandating internet censorship and deputizing the ISP’s as involuntary cops.

The language in the budget bill that puts the ban into place reads as follows:

To monitor online gambling, the Consumer Protection Act is amended to require Internet service providers to block access to illegal gambling sites entered on a list drawn up by the Société des loteries du Québec, which must report to the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux if service providers fail to comply with the Act. The Régie will be responsible for informing service providers of their non-compliance, and the president and chief executive officer of the Société or a person the latter designates is granted investigation powers to ensure compliance.

We here in the States have complained about legislators inserting anti-gambling language into unrelated bills such as when the UIGEA was added to the SAFE Port Act or the recent attempts to tack pro-RAWA language onto appropriations bills, and it looks like the same thing has happened in Québec.

Carlos Leitao, Québec’s Finance Minister, claims this is a consumer protection issue, saying it is for the “the health and safety” of Québec residents because unlicensed sites “don’t apply the same responsible gaming rules as the sites run by the government,” but the measure is really all about limiting competition.

Loto-Québec is the government-run lottery commission, which also operates the lone licensed online gambling site in the province, Espacejeux. It was Loto-Québec that got the gaming site ban put into the bill so that those in Québec would be forced to go to Espacejeux for their gaming, as all other sites would supposedly be blocked by ISP’s. And despite the concerns offered by Leitao, the budget documentation even admitted this is basically a revenue-growing measure, as it stated that the website ban would increase gaming revenue to the government by $ 13.5 million in 2016-2017 and $ 27 million per year after that.

The next step is for a “blacklist” of sites to be banned to be sent to ISP’s. Of course, it is Loto-Québec that is in charge of putting together this list. Loto-Québec has 30 days from when the bill was passed to create this list.

Loto-Québec had previously said that it would license three online gambling sites to provide gaming products for Espacejeux. One of those is expected to by Amaya Gaming, parent of PokerStars. In March 2015, when word of the ISP ban mandate spread, Amaya’s Head of Corporate Communications, Eric Hollreiser, expressed his and the company’s pleasure with the budget bill:

We read the budget address with great interest and are happy to see the government seeking ways to work with the private sector to contribute to Loto-Quebec’s growth in online gaming, for the benefit of taxpayers and the protection of consumers. Amaya has been a long time licensed partner of Loto-Quebec, providing it with both online and land-based games and support services. As the global leader in online gaming, Amaya would happily expand its existing partnership with Loto-Quebec to go through the necessary process to become an online solutions supplier accredited by Loto-Quebec and to help define the future online gaming guidelines.

Yes, the government is “work[ing] with the private sector.” Yes, that’s it.

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Montreal Nationals, London Royals atop GPL Conferences as First Half of Season Closes

 Montreal Nationals, London Royals atop GPL Conferences as First Half of Season Closes

The first half of the Global Poker League season has come to a close with a couple of surprising teams atop their individual conference standings. In the GPL Eurasia, the London Royals have slowly been grinding it out and now are in the lead, while the GPL Americas has seen the Montreal Nationals ascend to the pole position of the conference.

In the GPL Eurasia, the Royals have been stalking the top of the leaderboard for the past few weeks. With the Moscow Wolverines hitting their stride to take the top slot, the Royals were in a fight with the Paris Aviators for the second place slot in the conference. With one week to go in the first half schedule, the Royals decided to strike and seize the conference lead.

The amorous partnership of Igor Kurganov and Liv Boeree from the Royals led to a great deal of success for the team on the felt on Tuesday. During the Six Max sit and gos, Kurganov was able to take down a second place finish to the Paris Aviators’ Mike Leah to earn five points. In a case of “anything you can do, I can do better,” Boeree picked up the baton for the second leg of the Six Max match and crushed a field that featured the Rome Emperors’ Dario Sammartino, the Aviators’ Leah, the Moscow Wolverines’ player/manager Anatoly Filatov, the Berlin Bears’ Bill Perkins and the Hong Kong Stars’ Raiden Kan to capture the second sit and go.

The 12 points picked up by Boeree and Kurganov set the template for the matchup against the Wolverines on Wednesday. Playing like they had a plane to catch, the Royals’ Sam Trickett jumped all over the Wolverines’ Vladimir Troyanovskiy in winning the first two games of their heads up match. With those six points and the win sewn up, Trickett would drop Game 3 to Troyanovskiy in only 18 hands, but the 6-3 win gave the Royals 18 total points for the week and allowed them to steam past the Wolverines for the conference lead.

London Royals 97 10
Moscow Wolverines 92 8
Hong Kong Stars 91 6
Paris Aviators 86 9
Berlin Bears 74 4
Rome Emperors 63 3


Arguably the most disappointing team in the GPL Eurasia has been the Berlin Bears. Thought to be a powerhouse at the start of the season with a roster that included Brian Rast, Sorel Mizzi, Dominik Nitsche, Jeff Gross, Dan Cates and Perkins, manager Philipp Gruissem has seen his squad underperform in the first half of the season. With the live Summer Series, the Bears definitely have to turn their fortunes around or they will be left in the dust come the second half of the season.

In the GPL Americas, the Nationals took advantage of another bad week for the preseason favorites, the New York Rounders, as they extended their lead in the conference. The Nationals’ Martin Jacobson picked up a win and a third place finish in the Six Max for 10 points, but it was his teammate Jason Lavallee who carried the water for the Nationals. In their heads up battle against the Las Vegas Moneymakers’ Anthony Zinno, Lavallee swept the three games to pick up the 9-0 win and put the pressure on the rest of the conference.

The Rounders’ second bad week in a row saw Jason Wheeler only pull in three points during the Six Max matches, then Tom Marchese lost what would prove to be a pivotal heads up match against the L. A. Sunset’s Olivier Busquet by the count of 6-3. Busquet’s win, combined with the 10 points that Fedor Holz earned during the Six Max matches on Tuesday (a win and a third place), shot the Sunset past the Rounders and into the second place slot in the GPL Americas.

Montreal Nationals 106 10
L. A. Sunset 95 8
New York Rounders 87 7
Sao Paulo Metropolitans 82 6
San Francisco Rush 69 6
Las Vegas Moneymakers 65 3


The GPL America’s version of most disappointing squad would have to be the San Francisco Rush. Manager Faraz Jaka put together what was expected to be a strong challenger to the Rounders with players such as Phil Galfond, Tony Gregg, Anton Wigg, Jonathan Jaffe and Kitty Kuo. Instead of challenging, however, the Rush have underperformed in the first half of the season and, with the Nationals almost 40 points in front of them for the conference title, they have to start looking at simply getting into the Top Four so they can make the playoffs.

The GPL will be taking next week off as players come to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker, but the next big experiment for the burgeoning league is two weeks away. The “Summer Series” will begin on June 6 with live heads up play between the 12 teams in the GPL, starting with the Paris Aviators versus the L. A. Sunset in the first interconference battle between teams. From Mondays through Saturdays at 2PM (Pacific Time), two teams will have the live stage in Las Vegas as each team will play the six members from the opposite conference over the course of six weeks. It will be the next evolution of the Global Poker League as actual live play becomes a part of the show beginning on June 6.

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Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Doesn’t Pass; Re-Vote at Future Date

 Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Doesn’t Pass; Re Vote at Future Date

It was a weird day in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Tuesday as legislators voted on whether or not to legalize online gambling, including online poker, in the Commonwealth. It was generally thought that Tuesday would be a close win for the online poker community, but it strangely wasn’t. The conclusion, though, is yet to come.

Rep. John Payne introduced HB 649, a bill which would legalize and regulate online gambling, in February of last year. One would have thought that it would be this bill that the representatives would vote on, but instead, up for a vote were two amendments to a different online gaming bill, HB 1925.

The two amendments, A7622 and A7619, are quite similar, save for one major difference. A7622 includes language – in addition to online gaming – that would permit non-casinos to have video gaming terminals (VGT’s) on their premises. VGT’s are video slot, poker, and other video gambling games most of us have seen at casinos. In some states, places that are not casinos are permitted to have them. Sometimes they can pay out in cash, though in many circumstances, only payments in store credit are permitted.

A7619, which Rep. Payne says is essentially his bill in duplicate, does not include the authorization of video gaming terminals. Both of these amendments were put to a vote and both were defeated, A7622 by a vote of 66-122 and A7619 by a vote of 81-107.

According to industry expert Steve Ruddock of, it got a little nuts after the votes. Payne was listed as the author of both amendments, but actually voted against A7622, the one that included VGT’s. As it turned out, A7622 was actually created by Representative Mark Mustio – the inclusion of Rep. Payne’s name was some sort of clerical error. But because Payne’s name was on it, many legislators who were in favor of VGT’s voted against A7622 because they just assumed that it was the amendment that did not include VGT language. They knew Payne was not for VGT’s, so naturally they figured that an amendment written by him (again, this one was not) did not include VGT’s (which this one did).

Those representatives then voted against A7619, thinking that if both were struck down, both would be reconsidered and the vote could be redone. Both amendments will, in fact, be reconsidered, we just don’t know when.

Pennsylvania has one of the fastest growing gambling industries of any state in the U.S. and is one of the reasons why Atlantic City has struggled to draw visitors in recent years. Those in Pennsylvania who wanted to gamble – particularly those in the eastern part of the state – used to have to head across the border into New Jersey for the gaming entertainment. But now with resort-style casinos in Pennsylvania as well as neighboring Maryland and Delaware, there are many more options for residents of all these states.

New Jersey and Delaware have legalized online gambling, so it is only natural that Pennsylvania would want to compete in this area, as well. It’s not that people are necessarily going to cross state lines just to play online poker, but by legalizing online gambling in Pennsylvania, the state could keep even more gamblers within state borders as well as convert online gamblers into visitors to the state’s casinos.

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