[Interview] Danny McDonagh: Inside, Out and Back Again

Last year was full of surprising news that rocked the poker community – there were the changes in PokerStars’ Live tournament offerings, the end of the Asian Pacific Poker Tour (APPT), the separation of the Aussie Millions and PokerStars brand and more. Definitely one of the most shocking and the most saddening was the announcement that the well-loved face of APPT Danny McDonagh was leaving PokerStars.

A number of people have been asking – where is he and what’s become of him.  Well Somuchpoker has finally caught up with McDonagh who is always on the go and has finally found a way to pin him down long enough to ask him a few questions.

Danny Mcdonagh in Japan
Danny Mcdonagh in Japan

SMP:  You have been the face of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour for years, so it shocked the whole Asian poker community when they got wind that you were resigning from PokerStars as the Director of Live Events. 

For months we didn’t hear from you until, as surprising as the news of your resignation, you made a post on your Facebook wall on the 9 Step Guide to taking a 9 month career break with an announcement that you would

So could you enlighten us with a few questions?  Why did you feel like you needed a nine-month career break?

Danny McDonagh:  Actually, back in March when I left PokerStars, I had no idea how long my break would be. At times, I contemplated a complete change of direction from poker. The biggest reason why I finished up was my mother. Being based in Macau the past seven years meant there was very little time for me to see her, and with her memory fading I wanted more time to be close by. I’m very happy for the time I have been able to spend with her during my break.

SMP:   From a job that had a hectic schedule and that had always placed you in the spotlight, you decided to become an English teacher in Cambodia. How did you handle the radical change in career pace? How was your experience? How would you compare it to being the Asian Director of Live Events?

Danny McDonagh:  That is correct. Two months into my break I headed over to Phnom Penh in Cambodia to teach English. Having visited Siem Reap a few years earlier made selecting Cambodia as my destination an easy decision.

There is a sad history dating back to the 1970s with the Khmer Rouge, and the country is still recovering from this period today. It was a radical change, and while the hours were way less than my work before, it was certainly a challenge to take on four daily classes over a 10-week period. I was a very nervous teacher the first week, however, the students, varying from 15-45 years old, were absolutely fantastic.

A three-month commitment is quite a period in a person’s life. However, I left there not only feeling great about having helped people in a less fortunate country, but also about how much I personally got out of this experience.

The NGO I worked with, Conversations with Foreigners, is excellent and I would highly recommend them to anyone contemplating such an experience. The profits they make go towards very worthy causes in Cambodia, and you can check out their Facebook page to see some examples.

As for my personal benefit during this time, I was able to join a gym and ran and swam almost every day as part of my training to do a marathon in November. I ate well, partied way less, and really improved my fitness over the three months that I was there.

I also found that as my confidence built I was able to have a lot of fun with the students in the classroom, similar to me having fun with the players and staff as a live-events director, so there is a similarity in both of those roles.

SMP:  How did the World Poker Tour position come about? In what capacity will you be working with the WPT?

Danny McDonagh:  The opportunity came very much by chance. I planned early in my time off to spend a month in Las Vegas, run the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon there, and be a poker player for a month. I enjoyed my time so much there that I extended my stay until Christmas. Early on in Vegas I had a chance meetup with Angelica Hael, WPT VP of Global Tour Management. We had worked together at Crown in Australia, and more specifically on the Aussie Millions for quite some time.

Just before my departure from Vegas, Ange offered me to come aboard the WPT team, and that was the last thing I was expecting. In fact, I was already planning a second teaching stint in Cambodia. I gave the opportunity some thought and decided to take it on, formally joining the team on January 1 as WPT Live Events Specialist. My primary role is predominantly to oversee the growth of new WPT events in the Asia-Pacific region.

SMP:  A couple of years ago, it was only PokerStars and the WPT holding tournaments in mainland China. Now there’s the China Poker Games and big Chinese conglomerates like Tencent and Alibaba that are entering the scene. How do you foresee the future of poker in China, especially since they have very stringent laws regarding gaming? Do you think competition would be stiffer for the WPT?

Danny McDonagh:   Actually, events in mainland China are organized by the WPT’s parent company, Ourgame, who have been outstanding for the WPT brand. Ourgame’s excellent reputation and unsurpassed familiarity with the marketplace is a huge advantage for the WPT.

The poker market in Asia is definitely big enough for multiple competitors, as demonstrated by the fact that PokerStars’ major events in Macau attract as much as 60 percent mainland players.

Recently completing its fifth edition, the WPT Sanya event is the most well-known of all China events. With the exciting addition of WPT Beijing this April and the upcoming WPT National Korea event in March, WPT is very well positioned to continue expansion in the region.

SMP:  The Asian poker scene is evolving quickly. What trends and factors should we be looking out for the next few years?

Danny McDonagh: I foresee mainland China players continuing to dominate player fields in Asia for the next few years, but do look out for India’s growing numbers after the temporary setback of 30-percent tax being introduced on prize pools nearly five years ago. Numbers for official tournaments there are now on the rise, as more and more players accept the tax situation and the base of players grows.

Japan is a very exciting prospect, with casinos all but formally approved now. I was kindly invited by Yabuuchi-san to join their January JOPT grand final and I must say that I was super impressed with the professionalism of the tournament operation and the enthusiasm of the Japanese players. Growth in poker is definitely on the cards there.

Finally, the Philippines is an interesting territory to watch, as the economy of the country continues to prosper. In time, this will lead to more of the existing player base starting to enter international tournaments. That, coupled with the new resorts that have opened in Manila and recent improved relations with China, can only lead to bigger poker events in the country.

Somuchpoker:  Do you believe Asia with China are at the forefront of what will be the next frontier for poker?

Danny McDonagh:   Yes, I 100 percent agree. Say no more!

SMP:  You mentioned on your Facebook page that you spent some time in your home country, Australia. As an Australian Poker Hall of Fame member and a major mover of the game Down Under, what would you say is the general sentiment of the poker community towards the current issue of the amendments to the Interactive Gambling Law of 2001?

Danny McDonagh:  Poker is a game of skill and should be regarded as such. It is a bit perplexing that even as a game of skill, while still needing to have controls in place, many Australian politicians and the general population regard poker as being in the same category as online casino gambling and poker machines (slots).

Government licensed sports betting I believe is doing more harm to a far greater proportion of participants compared to online poker players.

SMP: Would you say that this would have a major effect on Aussie poker in general? Would it affect live tournaments?

Danny McDonagh:   If the amendments are passed and online poker ceases to exist in Australia, this will initially have a positive effect on live poker, both in casinos and poker leagues, or pub poker, as we call it in Australia. But in the longer term, less people will be introduced to the game as online poker is a feeder to live poker, so I see it as a negative over time. The same goes for live tournaments, in my opinion. There will be an initial uptick, but the end result will be negative.

SMP:  Everybody can see your energy and your dedication whenever you work. What keeps you so passionate about the industry?

Danny McDonagh:   Simply enjoying the work I do in the live poker industry, and specifically the customer and fellow staff interaction. Also, the sense of achievement in setting new records and building something big with the two standout achievements for me being the Aussie Millions and PokerStars Macau. I’m very much looking forward to my new opportunity with the World Poker Tour and helping the WPT expand further in the Asia-Pacific region with bigger and better events.

SMP:  You’ve done a lot of magic putting the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) almost everywhere in Asia. What can we look forward to with the WPT now that you’re part of the team?

Danny McDonagh:   It is without a doubt that the Asia-Pacific region has a big appetite for world-class poker events, as evidenced by the success the WPT has seen with its Sanya event. Moving forward, the WPT will continue to expand in the region, starting with WPT Beijing to kick off Season XVI of the World Poker Tour as part of the 2017 Ourgame Chess & Card Festival, and further ahead with the WPT National Korea event in March.

In addition to live-event expansion, the World Poker Tour, along with our parent company, Ourgame, looks to establish new partnerships in the region, as we believe we’ve only uncovered the tip of the iceberg.

In the words of WPT CEO Adam Pliska, the best is yet to come!

SMP:   Thank you very much for your time and welcome back to the scene!

Danny McDonagh:  My pleasure Gabby and my compliments to Loïc and the Somuchpoker team for the great development of this poker portal.

Interview by Gabrielle Barredo


Louis Hartwell

Graduated in Media Communication at the University of Lausanne, Louis Hartman is a co-founder of He began his career in Cambodia as freelance journalist. In same time he was making his living by playing poker every night at that time. Intense learner, he read dozens of poker strategy books to improve his skills during many years. With a strong interest about poker "behind the scene" in Asia and his communication skills, Louis launched Somuchpoker in 2014.

More Posts

Follow Me:
Special EmailTwitterFacebookFlickrYouTube