In recent days, the Merge Gaming Network began accepting new players from the United States following a four-month moratorium. According to PokerScout, which keeps tabs on poker site traffic, the number of real money ring game players on the Merge Gaming Network has grown 15% to a seven-day running average of 1,160. The network is in a dead heat with iPoker’s Italian site for the 11th largest average worldwide. During peak hours, traffic on the Merge Gaming Network approaches 2,200 cash game players.

Text found on PokerScout explains how the site arrived at an estimate of 15% growth: “Merge Gaming Network gained 7% after opening its doors once again to U.S. players. The much-anticipated move came mid-week, so the 7% weekly gain only captures part of the upswing. Day-by-day comparisons indicate that the true traffic increase has been closer to 15% so far. Merge has now moved back in front of Bodog to reclaim the title of the largest U.S.-friendly player pool.”

Note that does not recommend that players play on any US-Facing sites due to a significant risk of withdrawal issues. For more information, please see our official statement.

Despite the growth in Merge’s traffic, the worldwide online poker industry continues to sputter. According to PokerScout, worldwide cash game traffic grew 12% between mid-August and mid-October 2010. Over the same period this year, the number of real money ring game players has slid 5%. The winter months in the Northern Hemisphere are typically the busiest for the online poker industry, but in 2011, that may not be the case.

Year-over-year, worldwide online poker traffic is down 32%. Most of that decrease is likely due to Black Friday back in April, which resulted in PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UB departing the U.S. market. As PokerScout alluded to, the Merge Gaming Network has regained its title as the largest U.S.-facing network around.

PokerStars remains the top dog in the land traffic-wise, with a seven-day running average of 22,800 real money ring game players. That total is about five times as large as the second largest poker room in the world, PartyPoker, which has a seven-day average of 4,150 cash game players. By the way, you can get $10 free on PartyPoker if you sign up for a PartyPoker account through PocketFives. No deposit is required.

In other traffic news, 888 Poker, a member of the PocketFives Partnersprogram whose parent company is publicly traded in London, has seen its traffic boom 90% year-over-year. 888 has grown to be the fourth largest site worldwide in terms of cash game traffic with a seven-day average of 2,150 players and a 24-hour peak of nearly 3,700. Comparatively, Merge’s traffic has increased by 55% year-over-year.

Merge had closed its doors to new U.S. sign-ups in June, purportedly to catch up on payment processing. The ban on new U.S. accounts was rumored to last about six to eight weeks, but ended up stretching for four months. Merge officials declined to comment to PocketFives when asked for a quote for this story. No reason for the silence was given.

In a thread in the Poker Sites forum, posters were debating what types of U.S. players would be the first to sign up for Merge. One member of PocketFives wrote, “I’m guessing we will see more regs signing up than the avid recreational player. Many of them probably look at poker being deemed illegal and will wait until the government regulates it. Seems like I know a handful of players waiting for this to happen. Probably tougher fields, but hopefully guarantees will begin increasing.”

U.S. players may soon see relief on the legislative front. PocketFives has learned that the House Subcommittee for Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade will hold a hearing on internet gaming on Tuesday, October 25th. The Subcommittee is part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and will likely discuss Congressman Joe Barton‘s HR 2366, which paves the way for legalized and regulated online poker in the United States. No markup of the bill has been scheduled.

Stay tuned to PocketFives for the latest online poker headlines.