The Norwegian Championships of Poker will continue to be played in Dublin after the Scandinavian country’s attempts to legalise cash poker failed to impress high-rollers.
At least 2,000 Norwegians flock to Dublin’s Citywest Hotel every year for the competition as a way of avoiding their home country’s strict anti-gambling laws. The event, which can generate prize money of up to €1 million, is one of Ireland’s largest poker tournaments.
The Norwegian culture ministry introduced new rules this summer that allowed Norwegians to play in a new national championship in Oslo. The ministry believed the legalisation would steal the championship from Citywest, which has held the Norwegian tournament for the last four years.
However, Sigurd Eskeland, leader of the Norwegian Poker Federation, said that the state-approved tournament “is what it is” and doesn’t come anywhere close to the National Championships in Dublin when it comes to prize money and prestige.
“We expect the first prize to be about €150,000 in Oslo, which is not that much for the players who come through the regional championships. We wrote a letter to the culture ministry asking for real change so that the championship in Dublin can be moved to Norway, but our letter was ignored,” he said.
“We support the new tournament in Norway but we will continue to go to Dublin for the bigger games and for us it will continue to be the national championships.”
Next year, the Norwegian Championship will take place alongside the Irish Poker Open, and be played over St Patrick’s week in Citywest. As in previous years, it is expected to attract 1,400 Norwegian players and 600 supporters.
Mr Eskeland added that poker has long been viewed with suspicion in Norway.
“It is seen as something from the American Wild West or something. The law has been very slow to change,” he said.
Mr Eskeland added that the tournament has put a lot of money into the Dublin economy since it moved to the city four years ago, after one-year stints in Latvia and England.
“Many Norwegian people visit Dublin city centre during the tournament. I am too busy organising to really see the city but I do go down to Saggart, the nearby town, for lunch and things like that. It brings a lot of business to Saggart as well as Citywest,” he said.
A spokesperson for Lotteritilsynet, Norway’s gaming regulator, confirmed that, for the first time ever, Norway is hosting regional championship playoffs in Bergen, Kristiansand and other cities, and said that the national finals would be played at a hotel near Oslo airport later this month.
“A charity benefits from this tournament but the prizes are not like you have in Ireland,” he said.
The movement to legalise poker betting reached national prominence in late 2013, when Ola Amundsgard, a professional poker play and Dublin regular, challenged any Norwegian politician to a poker game to be played in Norway where the prize money was one million Norwegian kroner — more than €137,000.
The challenge was accepted by Progress party politician, Erlend Wiborg, to highlight the illegality of the proposed game.
The friendly challenge made national headlines, leading to calls for reform and questions about why Norway was losing so much money to Ireland.