Tuesday 5 January 2016


By Mick McCloskey

Due to recent events in Belfast, where local police raided another poker tournament and seized money and poker tables and chips, I have rehashed an article (below) that I wrote almost six years ago. Sadly not much has changed since then.

The island of Ireland is a fairly small place, in global terms, with a total population smaller than that of any one of a number of large cities in the UK. I’m not going to get into the politics of the situation here but, the island is divided into two parts, the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland (NI). As I write a blog about poker, that’s what we are going to look at in a bit more detail.

ROI has a long history of running poker tournaments with the Irish Open dating back to 1981. Even in those early days, the tournament could attract a decent amount of visiting players from the UK and even from the USA. Fast forward to the early part of this century and the growth in poker meant that player numbers had started to outgrow the traditional tournament venues. Hence the tournaments started to be moved into large hotel function rooms, with travelling players staying in the same hotels. The ambiance and atmosphere thus created meant that the tournament experience was combined with a great social experience as well, pretty much unlike anywhere else outside of the old WSOP experience at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas. In both places, you had most of the players staying, playing, eating and drinking in the same venue over a number of days and it was a great way of meeting and getting to know fellow poker players.

 The word of this type of experience filtered down to some of the smaller tournaments and the organizers of events in Ireland, that were able to offer good value, well structured tournaments began attracting more and more overseas players. In the last year I would estimate that the number of visitors, mostly from continental Europe, could be numbered in thousands rather than hundreds. One event alone, normally attracts well over 2,000 high spending Norwegians to Dublin for up to 10 days every year.  All these visitors have helped to create and maintain a vibrant poker industry in ROI, directly creating jobs for dealers and floor people. All these visitors need to get here so the airline industry, as well as other transport providers, feel the benefits. These visitors also need hotel rooms as well as food, drink and entertainment while they are here. All this has benefits for the Irish tourism industry as well as the economy in general. And it is not just the benefit of overseas visitors. Many people from other parts of Ireland and NI tend to stay in the same hotels for the duration of the tournament, normally a stay of 3 to 4 nights. The craic at these events is usually top class.

In NI such large tournaments are outlawed. Even people trying to organize something smaller, on a local basis, are liable to be, and have been, raided and shut down by heavily armed police. Enough said.