Poker players from all over Europe who had come to play in the Northern Ireland Poker Championships March 16 were furious when, one hour before the event was due to start, the Gardai (Irish Police Force) prevented the event from proceeding.
Players were understandably upset because they had incurred transportation and housing costs to be at the event, many coming from England, and some coming as far away as Austria and Poland.
The event was being held at the City North Hotel, Gormanston, Co. Meath located on the M1 motorway just south of Drogheda and 10 minutes North of Dublin Airport (a half hour drive from the Burlington hotel where the 2007 Irish Open will be held April 5-9).
Just the previous week, sponsor JPC Poker from Magherafelt Co. Derry, had moved the event outside of Northern Ireland to the City North Hotel because of a number of uncertainties including the legality of playing poker in the North.
Now, one hour before the event start, the Gardai informed City North hotel management that if they allowed the poker festival to continue that the hotel could lose its license. They also threatened to return the next morning with a warrant.
The organisers spoke with the police several times to sort out the problem and even offered to donate any profit to charity. But the police would not agree to allow the game to proceed.
JPC Poker tried to move the game to a Dublin club or another hotel nearby. But with no locations available on such short notice, organizers were forced to cancel the game.
JPC Poker refunded 1100 pounds to all players who had registered including the registration fee and generously added another 100 pounds on top to represent the guaranteed overlay on the main event’s prize-pool.
Speculation was that the event was targeted by the police in the north, the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland), who contacted their colleagues in the south to prevent the game from proceeding. Though prior raids on clubs have occurred, this was the first time a poker event was stopped by police in the Republic, where poker tournaments have been held in pubs and hotels without interference for years.
Under current Irish law, poker tournaments with a one-time registration fee are legal. So the police interference with the Northern Ireland Poker Championships has caused confusion and concern by tournament operators and corresponding venue management.
Clarification why this event was stopped is being sought.
The police raid throws a question on another upcoming event to be held at the City North Hotel. The hotel is also the location for the Green Joker Poker Festival in May. So organizers are seeking clarification quickly, to prevent doubts from being cast on that event as well.