On Friday the 16th of March the Northern Ireland Poker Championships were prevented from taking place by the Gardai, (Irish Police Force) an event that could have serious implications for the future of large poker tournaments held across Ireland.
The organisers of the festival, JPC Poker, had already changed its venue because of the uncertainty of the legality of poker tournaments in the North. The event was moved south of the border to the City North Hotel, Gormanston, Co. Meath, just 10 minutes North of Dublin Airport and just a half hour's drive from the Burlington hotel, where the 2007 Irish Open will be hosted less than three weeks from now. This hotel is also the venue chosen for the highly anticipated Green Joker Poker Festival in May.
The scheduled tournaments for the championship were a £1000 buy-in 3-day Main Event starting Friday March 16th, with a guaranteed prize-pool of £100,000, a £500 freeze-out on Saturday and a £250 freeze-out on Sunday. A Thursday charity game, which was originally part of the schedule, was cancelled and the organisers decided they would make a charitable donation to the Simon Foundation instead.
At 7pm on Friday March 16th just one hour before the event was due to start the Gardai came to the lobby of the hotel and informed hotel management that if they allowed their property to be used for the poker festival it may result on the hotel losing its license. They also threatened to return the next morning with a warrant.
With no alternative location available at such short notice the organisers were forced to abandon the game. They refunded £1100 to all players who had registered including the registration fee and generously added another £100 on top to represent the guaranteed overlay on the main event's prize-pool. The organisers pleaded with Gardai several times, even offering to donate any profit to charity but after considering these offers the police would not agree to allow the festival to go ahead.
Many poker players were understandably furious with the Gardai's decision as it meant they had incurred serious travel and accommodation costs. The event had online qualifiers from Betfair. Many players came across the water from England. Some had travelled from as far as Poland and Austria.
It has been speculated that this festival was targeted by the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) who contacted their colleagues in the south to prevent the game from proceeding. In January 2006 Northern Ireland police entered The Cavendish club in Belfast and confiscated over £20,000 in customers entry fees and also all of the poker equipment. However, this is the first time a poker event has been halted by police in the Republic, where tournaments have been hosted in pubs and hotels throughout the country without disturbance for several years.
Under current Irish legislation holding a poker tournament with a one off registration fee is perfectly legal, but tournament organisers must now have major concerns as to the future of their businesses, and clarification will be sought from the authorities as to why this event was prevented from going ahead.
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