1.1. Welcome Bonus 1.2. Poker Games 1.3. Software 1.4. Mobile Poker 1.5. HUDs + Trackers 1.6. Promotions
3.1. Bogus Accusation 3.2. Winners Unwelcome?
5.1. Payout Slowdown 5.2. Verification
6.1. Early Years 6.2. SportingBet to Jazette 6.3. Cake Years 6.4. To Merge 6.5. Merge Takeover 6.6. Rewards Cut
7.1. Bets Offered 7.2. Features 7.3. Promotions
9.1. Casino Games 9.2. Promotions
Sportsbook.ag is a long-running USA online sportsbook, casino, and poker site. With a history stretching back more than two decades and a short, memorable domain name, it certainly stands to reason that it appeals to members of the public looking to bet online. Sportsbook.ag is part of the Merge Gaming Network along with its sister sites Carbon Poker and PlayersOnly.
As its moniker may imply, this is mainly a sports betting site, but the attached poker room on the Merge Gaming Network was once the largest open to U.S. residents. Therefore, some aspiring poker fanatics are eager to sign up and play against what they figure is bound to be a large pool of sportsbook fish.
We have explored all parts of the Sportsbook.ag internet gambling suite in order to give you an accurate picture of what to expect. Our gaming experts have examined the poker room, sportsbook, casino, and racebook with critical and objective eyes, and we are pleased to present a comprehensive review of Sportsbook.ag..
Sportsbook.ag Poker Review
The Sportsbook poker room is probably what you're interested in as a reader of ProfessionalRakeback. The software is excellent, and while the number of games running at any given time is low, you will probably be able to find a few that appeal to you.
Upon making your first deposit of $50 or more at Sportsbook, you will receive a 100% up to $1,000 poker bonus along with an $11 tournament ticket. The bonus remains active for 60 days, and you will unlock the bonus funds $10 at a time whenever you collect 500 Player Points.
Every dollar in rake contributed or paid in tournament fees is worth 10 points. Therefore, you will have to rake $50 to gain 500 points and receive a $10 bonus segment: a rakeback rate of 20%.
This 20% bonus clearance rate is middle-of-the-road in comparison with other online poker welcome bonuses. However, the points you collect as you're working off the bonus do not have any other purpose. Most rooms have some kind of VIP system or points exchange, but neither of these elements is present at Sportsbook.ag.
Sportsbook.ag Poker Games
The poker selection at Sportsbook.ag encompasses the familiar trio of cash games, sit-n-goes, and multi-table tournaments. Some of the newer innovations in poker, like lottery SNGs and fast-fold ring games, are not present at this site.
The mainstay of the Sportsbook Poker cash game section is NL Texas Hold'em, which is spread at stakes between $0.05/$0.10 and $2/$5. Table sizes are 9-handed and 6-max. There are no heads-up games.
The next most popular poker variant is PL Omaha, which is offered at the same stakes as NLHE albeit only at tables with six seats; full-ring PLO is not present.
Note that PLO/8 is nowhere to be found in the Sportsbook.ag client. If you are looking to play split-pot four-card poker, then your only option is Limit Omaha/8, which is listed from $0.50/$1.00 to $15/$30. All LO8 tables are 6-handed.
Limit Hold'em is also on the menu from $0.10/$0.20 to $15/$30. Full-ring is offered only for $0.10/$0.20 while all the higher tables are 6-max.
In the past, the Merge Gaming Network used to be home to quite a few other game formats, like Badugi, 2-7 Triple Draw Low, and even non-poker action in Backgammon, Euchre, and several other games. Over time, however, these titles were excised from the software, leaving only four styles of cash poker available for customers to try. It's likely that traffic had declined to a point where there was no sense in continuing to host these seldomly populated games.
It is undoubtedly true that the player volume has decreased substantially from Sportsbook's peak many years ago. Throughout most of the day, you'd be hard pressed to find more than a couple of tables going at any particular blind level, and it's not uncommon to see fewer than a dozen ring games active across the entire site.
The rake in ring games depends on the betting structure of the game and the stakes.
Fixed Limit Tables: All Blinds
|# Players||Rake per $0.20||Rake Cap|
The rake in limit games is 5% up to $3 with a lower cap of $2 in three- and four-handed tables and $1 heads-up. This is bad compared to the other leading sites for LHE, which tend to have much lower caps both shorthanded and at full tables. Many moons ago, the Merge Gaming Network actually had among the best LHE rake to be found anywhere, but those days are long gone.
NL/PL Tables:$0.05/$0.10 - $1/$2
|# Players||Rake per $0.18||Rake Cap|
The rake caps in most big-bet games at Sportsbook.ag are a bit higher than industry averages. Moreover, the fact that a penny is dropped in $0.18 increments of the pot size rather than every $0.20 means that the rake percentage is 5.56% rather than the normal 5%. This combination makes the rake a tad excessive.
|# Players||Rake per $0.18||Rake Cap|
At the highest blind level, the only change is an increase of the cap from $4 to $5 in hands with at least five players dealt in. We're stunned that the Merge head honchos bothered to set up a third rake formula solely for the purpose of taking an extra $1 from players at a single stake level.
Sit n' Gos
$1.30 + $0.20
$3.11 + $0.39
$6.33 + $0.67
$1.33 + $0.17
$3.13 + $0.37
$6.42 + $0.58
$13.87 + $1.13
$27.76 + $2.24
$55.53 + $4.47
$1.39 + $0.11
$3.27 + $0.23
$6.61 + $0.39
$14.30 + $0.70
$28.78 + $1.22
$1.38 + $0.12
$3.23 + $0.27
$6.50 + $0.50
$13.94 + $1.06
$28.12 + $1.88
$1.41 + $0.09
$3.30 + $0.20
$6.67 + $0.33
$14.30 + $0.70
$28.60 + $1.40
$57.20 + $2.80
$104.30 + $4.70
$206.50 + $8.50
$1.44 + $0.06
$3.39 + $0.11
$6.83 + $0.17
$14.67 + $0.33
$29.34 + $0.66
$58.68 + $1.32
$106.71 + $2.29
$210.70 + $4.30
$1.35 + $0.15
$3.20 + $0.30
$6.50 + $0.50
$14.12 + $0.88
$28.28 + $1.72
$3.13 + $0.37
$6.42 + $0.58
$13.87 + $1.13
The Sit & Go lobby at Sportsbook.ag shows contests mostly denominated from $1.50 up to $60 though there are some heads-up matches available higher than this. The table sizes are 9, 6, and 2 along with 10-handed Double or Nothing games.
Almost all SNGs are NLHE though there are a few PLO Hi/Lo options, which is a bit unexpected given that this format is absent from the ring games. The standard regular-speed, turbo, and hyper-turbo speeds are here. No multi-table sit-n-goes are offered at Sportsbook Poker.
Sportsbook.ag features dozens of multi-table tournaments every day that you can join. Buyins start at $2.20 and go up to $109, apart from the weekly major, called the Sunday Big Ticket, which costs $150 + $12 to enter and guarantees $25,000. The main daily MTT is the $109 Nightly $5,000 Guaranteed, which kicks off every day, Monday – Saturday, at 7 p.m. ET.
Many of the tournaments have guarantees, but in order to protect itself from losing the farm, the poker site has set a minimum number of entrants on these events. While modest overlays are common, it's just as likely for a prospective value play to be cancelled altogether when not enough individuals register for it.
Most of the tourney schedule consists of NL Texas Hold'em events. However, a single PLO tournament runs daily along with a couple of PLO hi-lo games. Interestingly, there's a smattering of HORSE and 7 Card Stud Hi/Lo on the roster too: a relic of a time when these variants proliferated before being almost entirely cut from the network.
Merge Gaming used to host tournament series every once in a while, but it has been years since one has been announced. In the past, there were disputes among network partners about how to handle the cross-site accounting related to overlays, and several prominent skins opted to sit out various tourney series. Perhaps the headaches related to these disagreements led the network to eschew series altogether.
The Poker software in use at Spotsbook.ag was developed by the Merge Gaming Network itself rather than being created by an outside firm. Because Merge and its predecessors have been in business since 2004, the programmers have had time to refine and update the poker client into a smoothly running package.
The lobby contains four tabs for poker, sports, casino, and horses from left to right. Inside the poker tab, there are three sections: Quick Seat, Selectors, and Advanced Filter.
The Quick Seat function lets you choose the type of game you wish to play and the stakes, and the software will automatically seat you in an appropriate game. Quick Seat is available for ring games and Sit & Go, but in order to get into an MTT, you must choose it manually.
The Selectors are a series of groupings that begin with the main categories of poker on the left and drill down to more specific formats as you go toward the right.
If you are really looking for something specific, then the Advanced Filter is for you. Here, you can include or exclude particular types of poker and filter by average pot size, players per flop, and other metrics.
In either the Selectors or Advanced Filter view, you will see a list of tables/games toward the bottom of the window. You can sort them by various criteria by clicking on the column headers.
A neat feature is that you can click on the arrow to the left of any cash game to bring up a small display of the table showing everyone's stack size and position along with similar information in textual form.
At the bottom of the lobby is a scrolling ticker with odds for the sportsbook, but you can disable this in the settings.
At the top of the lobby are several menus chock-full of various customization options. You can turn on four color deck, change your avatar, set your time zone, alter auto-buyin and auto-rebuy values, and adjust many other aspects of the Sportsbook Poker software.
From the Settings menu, you can open up the “Display Settings” to enable or disable avatars, choose if you want to see winnings percentages when all-in, fiddle with the way the chat box works, and generally tailor the graphical elements of the poker client to your liking.
Another useful window, also found within the main Settings menu, is the “Poker Settings” interface. You can configure the way the bet slider works, change your auto muck/auto post/wait for big blind preferences, and otherwise arrange things the way you want them.
The tables at Sportsbook.ag should appear pretty familiar to any online poker enthusiast. The chatbox is on the bottom-left with the action buttons to the right and the players and cards occupying most of the remaining space.
Each player is indicated by a nameplate with their screenname, stack size, avatar, and accolade shown. The accolades represent accomplishments that an individual has achieved, such as winning a freeroll or playing from a mobile device. You can disable showing your accolades at the tables if you want.
The chat can be moved to the side of the table, which makes it easier to read given its small size in the standard table layout. One interesting aspect of the chat is that there is a menu of emoticons that you can send.
Actually, there are more emoticons supported than just the few that are selectable from the chat menu. We've compiled a list of Merge Gaming Network chat emoticons for your amusement. Be aware that the list of emoticons is changing all the time, so there may be a few new ones that aren't on our list, and others may have since been discontinued.
From the top-right menu, marked “Window Options,” you can cascade or tile your tables, resize them, or open another table of the same type. It is here that you can select a table theme too with the “Personalize Tables” item. If you're in search of premade themes, then you will find them in the “Preset” tab, but you can also pick specific table colors, rail patterns, card backs, and other graphical aspects for finer control.
Multi-tabling is allowed, up to 10 cash games at a time. Yet, one of the tactics beloved by this network is restricting the number of simultaneous tables winning users can play so as to prevent money flowing from the fish to the sharks.
Solid grinders have seen the maximum number of games they're allowed to join cut down to four or two. Some have even been limited to a single table, and a few were even banned from poker altogether.
The hand history browser can be opened by clicking on the previous hand number, displayed on the top-left of the table. You can review previous hands you have played in both text and graphical form although there's no way to play them back like a video.
You can choose the table you want to see hands for with the browsing interface in the top-left. Below this, you will see a list of matching hands that you can scroll through. You can also step through the hands one at a time with the “Prev Hand” and “Next Hand” links at the top of the window.
By clicking on “Hand History Settings” at the top-right off the window, you can adjust where hand histories are saved on your hard drive and how long to keep them for.
Note Taking + Player Tagging
Double-clicking on a player's nameplate brings up a box where you can enter notes on that individual. The space available is pretty capacious compared with other cardrooms, and you can scroll up and down should you exceed this fairly generous allotment.
You can also tag other users with any of 16 icons, which will be shown on the nameplate for that player. You can even rename these tags with the “Tag Settings” option in the lobby's “Settings” menu.
This window also has a few miscellaneous options that affect the way you view and interact with a player. You can change the color of his or her playerbox, mute their chat, and hide their avatar. Adding someone to your friends list can be accomplished here too, which will let you know when that person is online and the tables they're at.
In addition to the wealth of features, options, and settings scattered throughout the poker lobby, you can also see and edit information about your account through the Account menu by selecting “My Details.” This will cause an account overview to appear in your web browser.
Changing your password, viewing your cashier history, accessing the onsite messaging system, and uploading documents are a few of the functions contained on this page.
Sportsbook.ag Poker Mobile + Compatibility
In addition to desktop-based Windows and Mac software, Sportsbook also provides an Instant Play option that launches in your web browser. This works virtually flawlessly on Android, iOS, Blackberry, and other mobile operating systems. In addition, it serves as a way for users of Linux and other niche platforms to play poker.
Because of its web-based nature, there's no requirement to download any app or package in order to use Instant Play. As long as you go to the Sportsbook.ag website on any modern web browser, the system will automatically detect your screen size and serve you up poker tables of the appropriate dimensions and layout.
The entire menu of games from the desktop software is present for mobile. You can even multi-table, and your hole cards for each table will be shown near the top of your device. Click on a set of cards to be brought to the corresponding table.
HUDs and Tracking Software
As one of the longest-running USA online poker sites, the Merge Network in general and Sportsbook.ag in specific have been around for enough time to enable software makers to get a solid handle on how its hand histories are formatted. Therefore, it's no surprise that HUD (heads-up display) and tracker compatibility is rather high.
The two main tracking packages, PokerTracker and Hold'em Manager, work smoothly out of the box without any need for a hand grabber or other third-party programs. Holdem Indicator and iHoldem Indicator also support Sportsbook.ag.
But this isn't the whole story. Although you have your choice of quite a few trackers and HUDs on the Merge Gaming Network, it may not be wise to use any of them. If we take a look at Sportsbook.ag's Prohibited Software Policy, we see:
Analysis of Personal Hand Histories:
Programs that analyze a player’s hand history may be used in conjunction with a player’s personal hand history. These programs/services may not be used with shared hand history data.
This implies that trackers and HUDs are permitted as long as you don't data-mine hands you don't play in or acquire outside hand histories from third parties. However, several players have specifically inquired of support if tracking software is allowed, and they have received varying – and often contradictory – answers.
In any event, Merge is known to attempt to identify serious, winning players and then ban them. The use of a HUD certainly would tend to indicate that a particular customer is more knowledgeable about poker than the average user and so might attract the ban hammer.
Besides the 100% up to $1,000 initial deposit bonus, Sportsbook.ag also extends a few other promotional specials to its players.
Monthly Reload Bonus
Every month, there's a new redeposit bonus for poker fans typically in the form of a 100% match up to $1,000, but the amounts and percentages have varied a bit in the past. This bonus lasts 60 days and clears at 20% effective rakeback, which makes it identical to the standard first deposit bonus.
Each poker reload comes with a bonus code, which Sportsbook.ag instructs you to enter in the cashier when making your deposit. However, it's not uncommon for no bonus to be issued even if you type in the letters accurately. In this case, you ought to contact support, and they will (hopefully) add the appropriate bonus to your account.
Bad Beat Jackpot
Bad Beat Jackpots have become somewhat uncommon at U.S.-facing online poker sites, but Sportsbook.ag has one of the few left. Unfortunately, it's a bit on the small side rarely ever topping $100,000, but on the other hand, this jackpot is funded entire by the site, and there's no extra BBJ drop taken.
In order to trigger the jackpot, four of a kind or better must lose at showdown on a non-heads up Texas Hold'em cash game table. Both the winning and losing hand must use both hole cards, and the hand must go to showdown. A minimum of three individuals must be dealt into the qualifying hand.
If all these conditions are met, then the Bad Beat Jackpot pays out according to the following formula:
- 38% to the losing hand
- 20.5% to the winning hand
- 20.5% to others dealt into the hand
- 21% to fund a new jackpot pool
$100 Daily Freeroll
Each day, there's a free poker tournament at Sportsbook.ag that's open to all and has a $100 prize pool. There are unlimited $0.25 rebuys and a single $0.25 add-on, and these additional funds add on top of the $100 minimum.
The question of Sportsbook.ag rakeback is an academic one because there are no legitimate rakeback offers for this site. Though fellow Merge rooms Carbon and PlayersOnly used to offer rakeback until 2013, Sportsbook.ag was never a rakeback-friendly site.
Even under-the-table deals, provided without the blessing of site management, are basically impossible because there is no longer any affiliate program for the site. Because nobody receives commissions for referring players to Sportsbook, there's no revenue stream out of which rakeback payments can be made.
Neither is there any kind of pseudo-rakeback in the form of a VIP system, points exchange, or leaderboards. Sportsbook.ag used to feature all of these types of player rewards, but they have all been discontinued one by one.
If you are really looking to score a sweet rakeback arrangement, then you will have to look somewhere else. Check out this list of reputable rakeback poker rooms to get started.
Before proceeding any further with our review, we must tackle a subject that troubles the minds of many online poker fans. This is the question: Is Sportsbook.ag legit? Sadly, we cannot give an authoritative “yes” response to this query.
Although this site conducts honest gameplay and generally pays winners fairly, there are exceptions. Management loves recreational bettors and poker players, and it gives them a fair gaming experience, but the site takes a dim view of poker sharks, skilled sports bettors, and those considered bonus abusers. Sometimes, they even make up weird accusations to justify confiscating the balances of players whom they dislike.
Implausible Chip Dumping Accusation
One example of this came in 2017 when a poker player on Sportsbook.ag using the screenname “JJ9917” was fortunate enough to find a truly terrible opponent at a $15/$30 Limit Hold'em table and was able to relieve this fish of about $4,000. Imagine “JJ9917's” surprise when Merge's fraud team accused him of participating in chip dumping and returned his winnings back to the other user!
Merge provided as “proof” of chip dumping that this individual folded K-high in a three-bet pot during the middle of the session. Sportsbook.ag requested an explanation of this play from “JJ9917.” Despite explaining that he was employing the exploitative strategy of folding air and extracting maximum value with his made hands, the network didn't buy it and refused to return his money.
Sports Betting Sharps Harassed
Sportsbook.ag and its predecessor Sportsbook.com have long had a reputation in the betting industry for making life hard for winning sports bettors. It doesn't just ban them and inform them to go elsewhere, but the firm actually subjects them to many petty annoyances and hassles.
Some customers who amassed significant sports profits have reported that their payout requests were canceled after being pending for a lengthy time, ostensibly due to the need for additional proof of identity documentation, forcing them to begin the withdrawal procedure again and wait longer for their cash. Why Sportsbook.ag hadn't realized it needed those documents earlier is not clear.
Other tactics beloved by Sportsbook.ag include prohibiting individuals from betting anymore after they have made just a couple of wagers, invoking seldom-used clauses of the terms and conditions against bettors whom they perceive as professionals, and accusing users of bonus abuse merely for accepting too many bonuses even if those customers faithfully followed all the rules connected with said bonuses. It actions like these that have earned this site a position on the blacklist at respected industry resource SportsbookReview.com.
Sportsbook.ag's stance on successful sports bettors doesn't really affect poker players directly, but it is an indication of the mindset of those running the site. Suffice it to say that this philosophy definitely transfers over to the poker side of things to the detriment of winning players.
Sportsbook.ag promotes Bitcoin as the preferred deposit method for its customers, and this is one point on which we're in full agreement with this company. Bitcoin enables low-fee transactions with reasonable speed and a high degree of anonymity. If you're uncertain about how you can use Bitcoin to facilitate your online poker play, then read this guide to Bitcoin online poker for all the info you need to get started.
Selected customers may have additional deposit methods, like credit cards, available to them, but by default, Sportsbook accepts only BTC for funding accounts. To make a deposit, click on the yellow “Cashier” button in the poker client. This will bring up the Bitcoin deposit form in your web browser:
Select the amount you wish to deposit from one of the values shown, or type your deposit size into the field indicated for it. You can load between $5 and $10,000 into your account at one time, but in order to claim any bonuses, you have to deposit at least $50.
Type in your Promotion Code if you have one to redeem the bonus attached to it. Even if you don't wish to claim any specific promo code, you may still benefit from certain bonuses that are automatically applied.
Press “Next” at the bottom of the page to continue. Now you will see an address along with the number of bitcoins you must send to it:
Now go into your Bitcoin wallet and send the appropriate sum of BTC to the address displayed. Upon blockchain confirmation, the funds will be credited to your real money balance.
As a security measure, Sportsbook.ag randomly generates a four-digit PIN for every customer and sends it to them by email. You need to enter this PIN in when requesting any withdrawal. In case you should forget or misplace it, it's possible to have another one created.
Sportsbook.ag advertises payouts via the following channels:
- Bitcoin: $50 - $2,500
- Check: $250 - $2,500
- Wire Transfer: $300 - $5,000
Some accounts are limited to only BTC cashouts, but on the other hand, a few extra payment channels are listed for certain users. This is probably determined by geographic region as well as the history of the account.
Sportsbook.ag provides only one free payment per year. Any additional withdrawals incur a fee of 3%. This includes Bitcoin transactions, which are almost always fee-free at every other trustworthy online gaming site.
Making matters worse is the lengthy timeframe that it takes to send crypto payouts. According to Sportsbook's website: “We are processing Bitcoin payment to customers in 2 to 3 weeks.” This isn't just a case of under-promising and over-delivering. Plenty of users have reported that these multi-week processing windows are, in fact, commonplace.
The long waiting period, relatively low maximum withdrawal amount, and fees mean that it might take you a while to receive all your winnings from Sportsbook.ag, and the total amount you get may be quite a bit lower than what you actually won. You can avoid these hassles by instead playing at online gaming sites with reliable, low-fee payments.
Payout Timeframes Going in Wrong Direction
Customers of the Merge Gaming Network have had to wait a long time for their money in the past with payments sometimes taking months to arrive. When the Bitcoin withdrawal option was debuted in late 2015, it still sometimes took weeks for cashouts to arrive, but this was much faster than checks were taking back then.
BTC payout windows then improved considerably. By late 2016, many users were reporting same-day and next-day payouts.
However, in early 2017, there were slowdowns, and the stated timeframe from the network for Bitcoin withdrawals was 24 to 96 hours. Four days is a bit of an extended wait to receive bitcoins compared with other gaming organizations, but overall, it's not too bad.
Then in mid-2018, this 96-hour maximum changed to 5 – 7 business days. This became 5 – 9 business days in 2019, and as of June 2020, the quoted payout timeframe is 2 to 3 weeks.
There's absolutely no reason why it should take up to three weeks for customers to receive crypto payouts. Also worrying is the fact that the time it takes to send withdrawals to users has been steadily increasing over the past few years. This could be an indication that Sportsbook.ag no longer has the financial resources to discharge its payout obligations in a timely way, which is a worrying sign for the future.
Before your first withdrawal is processed, you will have to go through the account verification procedure. Should you neglect to do so, your payout will be cancelled and the money returned back to your account.
To successfully complete account verification, you must do the following:
- Upload a color copy of your driver's license or passport
- Upload a utility bill showing your mailing address
- Upload a copy of a void check or bank statement (only for bank wire withdrawals)
- Verify your email address
In order to understand where an organization now stands, it's useful to examine its history. Therefore, we have composed below a short synopsis of Sportsbook.ag and the crucial events that have shaped it until the present day.
The original direct progenitor of the current Sportsbook.ag gambling portal was called Sportsbook.com. As you would expect with such a premium URL, there was a ton of wrangling, negotiations, and big plans surrounding the ownership of the Sportsbook.com domain name during the infancy of the internet gaming industry..
After a tumultuous and confusing period, Sportsbook.com wound up in the hands of Patrick Callahan, a pioneer in the offshore sportsbook world and the owner of bookmaking website PlayersOnly.com. The Sportsbook.com gambling site opened for business in November 1998.
The initial Sportsbook site had only sports betting and casino with poker and horses being conspicuously absent. Despite its limited product offering, the operation grew quickly, aided by its ability to process credit card deposits with a higher rate of success than most competitors.
SportingBet and Jazette
In 2001, Sportsbook.com and its partner sites PlayersOnly.com and WallStreet.com were sold to SportingBet, a major, publicly traded gambling corporation. With the acquisition of Paradise Poker in 2004, SportingBet was able to add poker to the list of betting diversions available on Sportsbook.com.
The unfortunate passage of the UIGEA in 2006 spelled trouble for every publicly traded online wagering company, and SportingBet was no exception. It sold its US-facing brands, like Sportsbook.com, to Jazette Enterprises for the paltry sum of $1. Jazette was an entity that had been hitherto unknown, leading to speculation that it was really the creation of SportingBet management itself.
The Cake Years
With Paradise Poker also departing the U.S. market and for mostly the same reasons as SportingBet, Sportsbook.com needed to find a new cardroom partner, which they did in the form of the Cake Poker Network.
Cake was known as a great place for rakeback chasers, bonus hunters, and multi-tabling grinders, and the action bettors who inhabited Sportsbook.com tended to lose quite a bit to members of the other network skins. This raised concerns among Jazette management who tried such tactics as launching special tables that only their players could access in order to prevent them from losing their balances to sharks from other sites on the network.
The Move to Merge
By 2010, Jazette was fed up with the Cake Network and opted to move to the Merge Gaming Network in April of that same year. Instantly, the size of the Merge Network ballooned dramatically as the large player bases of Sportsbook and PlayersOnly were added. However, what at first appeared as an unmitigated blessing for Merge soon proved to be quite the contrary.
Everything seemed good for more than a year, and even the disruptive events of Black Friday in 2011 redounded to the benefit of the Merge Network as it became the largest USA online poker destination overnight when competitors PokerStars and Full Tilt were forced to leave the market. One consequence of these events, though, was that Sportsbook, fearing the confiscation of its .com domain, transitioned over to the Sportsbook.ag domain.
Despite benefitting from tremendous growth of its poker room, mismanagement of the business threatened to scupper the fortunes of Merge once and for all. A proliferation of new network sites meant that a few shady operators slipped through the cracks.
Lock Poker started rewarding players handsomely, in an unsustainable way, seriously reducing revenue (before going totally rogue), and some other skins began poaching each other's customers by offering lucrative (for the players) rakeback percentages and breaking the network's rules in the process.
Jazette Takes Over the Merge Network
All of this caused bit hits to Merge's bottom line, and Jazette (the owner of Sportsbook.ag) was persuaded to provide much-needed capital. From this point onward, Jazette began to take increasing control over the Merge Gaming Network's decision-making process.
Sadly for poker players, Jazette was primarily a sportsbook enterprise with poker tacked on as a barely profitable sideline. Once it began to run the show, it made its views on poker crystal clear with a series of moves designed to dissuade successful players from continuing to hit the felt.
The reason for this is that winning poker practitioners take money from the losers who then have less available to bet on sports and casino games. Jazette would rather have this money directed instead toward its other product verticals instead of going into the pockets of poker pros and then withdrawn from the site.
Player Rewards Cut
In early 2013, Sportsbook.ag discontinued its “Ace High” VIP program, which allowed the highest-volume grinders to trade in 60,000 points per month to get $2,700 in cash credits: a 45% rate of return. Under the new system, dubbed “The Players' Club,” these elite pokerists were restricted to exchanging 90,000 points for $1,200 every month: a mere 13% kickback.
Soon, however, even this 13% boost app