Just a week before Christmas the most iconic poker venue in Ireland, the Fitzwilliams Casino & Card Club, tragically announced that it will permanently shut its doors immediately with 80 staff losing their jobs.
The “Fitz”, as people lovingly called it, had been operating for 16 years and was the main poker venue not just in the Irish capital Dublin, but in the whole country. Most Irish poker pros went through the Fitz on their way to poker success or even poker stardom.
The club states that recent changes in Irish gambling law forced them to close. It is said that a “gaming permit” under the new Gaming and Lotteries Amendment Act 2019 only allows operators to offer games where the odds for the banker and gambler are equal.
This totally defies the point of a casino operating, and the Fitz had offered a big selection of casino games besides poker. While poker is still technically allowed, it is not profitable enough to maintain the economic viability for the venue.
It is hard to say how things will develop now for poker in Ireland as these changes will likely affect other operators, too.
Padraig Parkinson about The Fitz
Somuchpoker had a chance to talk to Padraig Parkinson, the godfather of Irish Poker, about recent developments of poker in his home country, specifically the closing of the iconic Fitzwilliams Card Club after 16 years of operation.
Padraig Parkinson, currently an ambassador for partypoker, is one of the best known poker pros from Ireland with live tournament earnings of over $1.8 million and results reaching back to 1994 on HendonMob.
But besides tournaments he was often found at the cash game tables in the Fitz, usually happily engaged with other players, sharing new and old poker stories.
Padraig calls the Fitz “an institution, a poker national treasure” and that the closing of it is “a disaster for Irish poker”. He tells us that it all “started off pretty romantically, because it was a club set up by poker players for poker players” and it so “became the spiritual home of poker in Ireland”.
At some point during the last decade or so there were a few problems “on the financial end” and players started selling their shares in the business. The Fitz then left the poker players’ hands with new parent companies becoming majority shareholders.
But where did this all go wrong? It looked like the Fitz was doing good business and people loved going there to gamble and play poker. “They were very innovative and forward looking” Padraig says, “they ran their festival and televised it. They brought poker to TV showcasing for the Irish people what Irish poker was all about”. Padraig gloomily adds “This is now gone forever.”
Padraig explains that “the Fitz was going to be compliant with what the government wanted” and to be “squeaky clean” once licensing was coming around. It operated on a loss for a while to wait out legislation, and when the new licensing finally came, it surely was not what they expected, so they had to pull the plug immediately.
When asked where Padraig himself was now going to play, he laughed “That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I don’t know.”
His assumption is that poker in Dublin will now move to the suburbs to operators like the 4 Kings Casino & Card Club and probably partially to the underground. Really not what the government would want. If there will be poker-only clubs springing up across the capital and country remains to be seen.
To close the conversation with Padraig we asked him about his favourite memory of the Fitz and it clearly is the community. The way people described themselves as “Fitz players”, reluctant to play elsewhere almost as if it were a betrayal and also the way everyone was welcomed, no matter their cultural, social or political background.
And as such his least favourite memory is the loss of community when the Fitz lost the well-loved club member Paddy Hicks.
Where the Fitz players will go and what will happen to poker in Ireland will be seen over the coming months and years. With so many political and cultural aspects to factor in it is difficult to predict.
My (the author) personal relationship with the Fitz
For the author of this article, Christin Maschmann, this venue had a special meaning:
“Irish poker is something unique. The game enjoys a special kind of love from the Irish players as I have never experienced it anywhere else.
When I started playing poker in 2007, it was online on PokerStars and it was live at the Fitzwilliams Card Club. Back in the days it was a €30 self-dealt tournament every Sunday where I learned the game and got my feet wet.
Fast forward quite a few years and I had my first ever televised final table experience in this very venue, playing for a top prize of €30k at the Fitzwilliam Poker Festival 2016 Main Event, facing local players including the Irish poker legend Andy Black. I finished up 4th for €6,250 and it was an experience I will never forget.
Commentating on the live stream that aired on Eir Sport (Irish sports channel) and is fully available on YouTube, was Padraig Parkinson. We had met a few times over the years and I’m always thrilled to hear some of his poker stories. I was glad I could speak to him about the Fitz and Irish poker for this article.
I keep my fingers crossed for the country that got me into poker and I hope that Padraig, the other Fitz players and all my Irish poker buddies will find a new home to play their favourite game.”