Richard Quirke wanted to turn part of Tipperary into Ireland’s Monte Carlo. Recently an alleged fraud of €2.56m has been uncovered at his Dublin business. John Meagher profiles the slot-machine tycoon
Richard Quirke almost never gives media interviews. He prefers to stay out of the spotlight, even when he is planning a mega-casino the likes of which Ireland has never seen.
But, in 1992, he relented and spoke to the now-defunct Sunday Tribune. He confided in journalist Ursula Halligan, later of TV3, that he was a transcendental meditation devotee and that he donated a portion of the profits from his Dublin casinos, Dr Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium, to fund a TM centre at the former Richmond Hospital in Dublin.
“Prior to 1982” — when he took up the technique developed in India in the 1950s — “I was probably 80pc dishonest in my dealings with other people. I mean, if I did a deal with you, and it was on a 50-50 basis, I wouldn’t be happy unless I got the lion’s share in my favour. I had no conscience. It didn’t bother me in the slightest.
“I would be at Mass on Sunday and I would stand up and sit down, stand up and sit down, as need be. But I would be plotting and scheming as to how I could rip off people during the rest of the week.”
It was an intriguing admission from a man who, even in the early 1990s, was a significant player in the Irish casino and gaming industry. His Dr Quirkey’s chain — the best known of which occupies prime real estate on O’Connell Street — had shown how gifted he was at packaging gambling as entertainment.
But there have been clouds on the horizon. This week it was reported that alleged fraud had been discovered at Dr Quirkey’s. The cost of the alleged fraud is valued at €2.56m and was apparently discovered in December 2020. It comprises €2.22m in misappropriated cash in 2018, 2019 and 2020 as well as misappropriated bank payments amounting to €342,764 over the three years.
The firm appointed external financial consultants to carry out a forensic investigation into the company’s systems and processes. The accounts note that “this led to the identification of unpaid taxation and interest liabilities which have been fully accrued in the company’s accounts”.
Review sought comment from Richard Quirke or a representative from Dr Quirkey’s, but at the time of going to press, there was no response.
Quirke (75) is no stranger to controversy, not least when he was the brains behind plans to build a huge gambling resort in his native Tipperary. In 2011, he unveiled plans to build a “Las Vegas-style” super-casino, horse and dog racing tracks, an 18-hole golf course and a luxury 500-bedroom hotel close to Two-Mile Borris, roughly 10km from Thurles, the town he grew up in.
If that wasn’t ambitious enough, Quirke also proposed a 15,000-capacity “underground entertainment” venue and a replica of the White House. The Tipperary Venue, as it was set to be called, was to be built on 880 acres — roughly half the size of the Phoenix Park. Quirke wanted it to be a destination for well-heeled gamblers and racing fans. He estimated the cost of the venture to be €480m. Eyebrows were raised when he suggested it could be Ireland’s answer to Monte Carlo.
There were concerns that it would fuel gambling addiction problems — mobile phone betting was in its infancy in the early 2010s, and the bricks-and-mortar gambling centres were under scrutiny. But Quirke insisted his venture would not affect those who were financially vulnerable. In a 2013 submission, he described his proposal as “middle-class venues” and insisted that “they simply do not cater for the poor”.
“They are more likely,” he added, “to have white-collar jobs... they travel more, have more cars, spend more on their homes… The presence of casino gambling in Monte Carlo has no impact on gambling in deprived areas of Marseilles.” A sign of the clientele Quirke hoped to attract was captured by a critical component of the plans: a heliport.
Despite winning planning permission from An Bord Pleanála and the backing of prominent Tipperary business people as well as local TD Michael Lowry, Quirke’s Tipperary Venue never got off the ground. The government of the time were not enthused by the venture, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny expressing his concerns about its potential impact on young people and those with gambling addictions.
A new law, the Gambling Control Bill 2013, limited the number of tables which can operate in a casino to 15, thereby effectively outlawing Las Vegas-like operations. While the original planning application expired in 2018, the developer applied for — and was granted — an extension until March 2023, but few imagine it, or even a much smaller version of it, will ever be built.
Quirke has spoken little of the Tipperary Venue in recent times and even in the period when the venture looked as though it could happen, he preferred to stay on the sidelines, letting others do the talking.
He grew up in Thurles, the solitary boy in a family of three girls. His father, Dan, “drove the hare” at the Thurles greyhound track and worked as a groundsman there. The family lived in the townland of Knockeen, before relocating to the newly built, local authority estate, Kennedy Park.
He attended the Scoil Ailbhe national school and then Thurles CBS, one of the country’s leading hurling nurseries, where iconic Tipperary stars such as Jimmy Doyle and Pádraic Maher first signalled their talents.
After a short stint working locally, Quirke applied to the Garda College in nearby Templemore. Soon after qualifying as a garda, he was deployed to Bray in Co Wicklow. It would be a fateful appointment. It was at the seaside town, along its famous promenade, that he sensed the money-making potential of amusement arcades. He soon quit the police force and set about making his fortune in slot machines.
Bray was also where he met his wife, Ann, who is five years his junior. She came from a family steeped in money. Her father, Captain William Stapleton, was the owner and founder of Silverpine Studio, a key player in the nascent Irish movie scene.
In 1976, aged 29, he and Bray businessman Myles Freaney, established a company, Dublin Pool and Juke Box Ltd, and quickly established himself as a shrewd operator. His first gaming arcade was Caesar’s Palace in Phibsborough — since renamed Dr Quirkey’s — and it quickly took off. Always keen to exploit a business opportunity, he started leasing slot machines to other arcades around the country.
By the early 1980s, company reports show that the sole directors of the company were Quirke and his wife, Ann. By then, he was a significant force in the industry, controlling 3,000 gaming machines, including pool tables, throughout the country.
As the money poured in, so did his property-buying instincts. At one point, he is thought to have owned 20 properties on Dublin’s O’Connell Street. For many years, he was determined to develop the old Carlton cinema site, but legal and political wrangles ensured little progress has taken place.
Along with architect Paul Clinton, he planned an ambitious development called the Millennium Walk at the site, but it ran aground in 2001 when Dublin City Council issued a compulsory purchase order for some of the land, claiming that the consortium had neither the money nor the ability to see the impressive plans realised.
The Tipperary Venue plans will have been a setback too, but Quirke’s transcendental-meditation training will have helped him to move on.
The pandemic hit his gaming businesses hard and Dr Quirkey’s was closed for much of 2020 and 2021, but trade has been reportedly brisk since life largely returned to normality earlier this year. Getting to the bottom of the alleged fraud, however, is likely to have occupied his thoughts in recent times.
While Quirke senior seems determined to avoid the media spotlight, his two sons, Wesley and Andy, have high profiles. The former, who manages another family gaming business, the Carlton Casino Club on O’Connell Street, is married to the model Rosanna Davison.
That she is Chris de Burgh’s daughter has ensured she has been a media fixture since her teen years. Davison has spoken openly about the couple’s fertility battle — she had 14 miscarriages in two years. They are now parents of three children, including a daughter, Sophia, who was born through surrogacy.
Wesley tends to be happy to stay in Rosanna’s shadow although he will likely have been embarrassed to make the newspapers some years ago when fined for having tinted glass on his Lamborghini sports car.
Comedian and actor Andy came to prominence in 2011 thanks to Damo and Ivor, the RTÉ show he created, wrote and starred in. He played both roles — Damo, a hard chaw Dubliner and Ivor, a Ross O’Carroll-Kelly type. He also launched a record label, Skanger Records, and in the company accounts its location was cited as Cortina, Carrickmines — the €5m family Quirke family home in south Dublin.
Richard Quirke has two daughters, but like their father, they like to live their lives away from the limelight.