04/02/2010

Police Close Another Poker Club

Mick McCloskey

Northern Ireland Police spoiled the pre Christmas festive atmosphere at The River Club in Derry City by arriving in force during the club’s Christmas tournament on the third Sunday of December. Some of the players actually thought that they were about to be robbed as the first police to arrive were done up in riot gear complete with balaclavas covering their faces. I’m not quite sure what the police were expecting to find in a poker club, apart from a load of people quietly playing Texas Hold’em! The fact is that this club has been operating quite openly for around three years, the police have been quite aware of this and the club owners have actually been in contact with the local police to find out whether they were actually breaking any laws by running regular poker tournaments. In fact, the owners tell me that the police previously sent a file to the N. I. Prosecution Service about the club’s activities and that they were advised not to proceed with any prosecution. So quite what the police hope to achieve by this heavy handed approach is beyond me. The police stopped the game, seized the prize money, laptops, playing cards and the poker chips and questioned and searched all the players and made a note of the amount of money each player had in his/her possession. They also arrested the two club owners and held and questioned them at the local police station for a number of hours before charging both men and bailing them to appear in court at a later date. The owners have been charged with organising and taking part in illegal gaming under the terms of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Order (N. I.) 1985. The trouble with this legislation is that it is 25 years old and poker in those days was mostly played in private and the massive growth in the game could certainly not have been anticipated by the law makers of the time. An up to date review of the law, as regards poker, would be very welcome by both players and operators.

Following on from another poker club in Belfast being raided and closed recently, there seems to be a concerted effort by the Northern Ireland authorities to clamp down on poker in this part of the world. I find it incredible that as a resident of Northern Ireland, with dual UK and Irish nationality, I can play poker in peace and security anywhere I choose in the rest of the UK and in the Republic of Ireland without fear of police raids in the middle of the game. Yet, in my own little part of the world, I feel like I am being criminalised for playing a game that millions of people all over the world are free to enjoy. It’s not as though all gambling is outlawed here, only the parts where you have a sporting chance of making some money, it seems. You can spend as much money as you like on the national lottery, betting on sports, playing bingo, slot machines or whatever, with very little chance of a meaningful result. They may be able to close down well run clubs, as they choose, but they will never stop people playing poker in Northern Ireland, or anywhere else, as long as the internet exists or as long as consenting adults are prepared to put their money down on the poker table to play the game they love and enjoy.

I will try to keep you updated on where things go from here but, I’m not optimistic about the future of live poker in this forgotten corner of the country.