Poker players fly in from Norway


MORE THAN 1,000 Norwegian poker players arrived in Dublin over the weekend for a week-long event deemed illegal under gambling laws in their home country.

The Norwegian Championship, a series of poker tournaments with entry fees ranging from €300 to €2,000, got under way at the Citywest Hotel, Dublin, at the weekend. It continues until Sunday and features an exclusively Norwegian field, although some side games are on offer for locals.

Due to regulations on playing poker in Norway, where the game is considered a type of lottery, the event has been staged in Sweden, Latvia and England in recent years. It has been brought to Ireland for 2012 by tournament director JP McCann.

“We’re hoping over 1,200 Norwegians will come,” he said. “They won’t all be here for the full duration of it but you’ll certainly have close to 1,000 staying for six days . . . From a tourism point of view it is huge.”

Frode Fagerli, the main organiser of the Norwegian Championships, said Norway was one of the few countries in Europe where poker games were not permitted.

“Under gaming laws in Norway if you pay to participate and there are prizes and a degree of luck or chance involved, it is a lottery. You’re only really allowed to bet on the national games like the lottery, and then horse races, soccer games and things like that.”

The legal picture in Ireland is less clear. Casinos are illegal in the Republic under the 1956 Gaming and Lottery Act. Despite this, up to 50 venues throughout the State offer casino-type games, including poker, as they are run as private members’ clubs.

Parties in the gaming industry argue the area has been overlooked for many years with a lack of certainty about what might come, making it difficult to justify investment and forward planning.

“If companies outside are looking in and want to plan a tournament here 12 months down the line, they could see it as a little risky,” Mr McCann said. “One of the main questions I get asked is ‘what’s the story with the licence?’

“At the moment there is absolutely no licence system here, which is why we’re trying to make sure that it is regulated and done properly,” Mr McCann continued.

“When I explain this to people looking in, they say ‘we might do it in Prague instead. Can you come over and do it for us?’ ”

In September, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said it was time for a comprehensive revision of the State’s gambling laws.

“The shortcomings in the current law, for example the absence of any regulation of online gambling, are exposing young people and other vulnerable persons to unacceptable risks. The present laws are not adequate to deal even with aspects of gambling which they were intended to cover.”

The Department of Justice said work was progressing on the preparation of the heads of the Bill and that the Minister expected to bring his proposals to Cabinet in a few months.

David Hickson of the Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland said there was a strong appetite for regulation in the industry and tourism could be a big beneficiary from a regulated system.

“Most tourists coming to Ireland are from mainland Europe, the UK and North America, which are jurisdictions where they have casinos as a recognised form of entertainment.

“The unregulated nature of casinos in Ireland makes them less attractive, but if you licensed them, people would know exactly what they were dealing with.”