Friday 6 December 2019

Wheels of fortune still turning in capital's gaming clubs

Casinos are illegal in Ireland, but Craig Hughes finds that gamblers are not waiting for the Tipp Venue to try their luck

I'M SITTING at a poker table, a waitress brings me a drink and a beautiful Asian dealer explains the house rules to me. I'm in the luxurious Sporting Emporium, just off Dublin's Grafton Street, with €150 in my pocket. I'm witnessing why people of all ages and all walks of life simply can't resist the temptation to bet big and risk losing hard.

I'm joined at the table by eight other punters -- there's a pretty girl in her early 20s opposite me, the last person I expected to see at a card table; but while the other punters are appreciating her looks, she's taking their money.

To my right there's a pompous middle-aged man from Dublin; he likes to throw his money around, and has €500 in front of him. There are two carbon copies of him at the other side of the table, equipped with iPhones and Tommy Hilfiger jumpers. But their bravado image isn't working tonight and they end up losing their chips to various players around the table, including myself.

A ginger man in his early 20s joins the table. He looks the part. Headphones partially on, tinted sunglasses at the ready, and a confident swagger. It's a familiar sight; he seems symptomatic of the modern young gambler who wants to make gambling his occupation. I can't blame him for wanting to make the Sporting Emporium his work place -- to gamblers, it's paradise: flat-screen televisions on the wall to watch live sport; computer screens at the ready to bet on live sport; and a free bar to drown your sorrows, should you have a bad day at the office.

The regular poker players here are not desperate gamblers about to be evicted from their houses. Well, at least I don't think they are. It seems more like a hobby -- an expensive one at times. Tonight, there's more than €3,000 on our table.

After three hours of swimming with the sharks at the poker table, boredom sets in and I cash out for a tidy profit.

Downstairs in the gaming room, roulette and blackjack are the games of choice. A youthful couple have stumbled in, cheering around the roulette table. They're not betting too big, but are enjoying the complimentary beer and having a good time.

The room is otherwise empty apart from three thirtysomethings in suits, playing blackjack. They seem to be losing hard and don't like me watching them as their money makes its way from their pockets into the dealer's till.

I realise I have overstayed my welcome in this establishment tonight. But the night is relatively young, so I hop in a cab and head for the Fitzwilliam Card Club on Fitzwilliam Street Lower.

As I walk into "The Fitz", as it's commonly known, I am immediately struck by a group of predominately Asian men gathered around the roulette wheel and strictly noting where the ball lands after every spin before doing what looks like quadratic equations. After solving the sum, they place various chips across the board, but the roulette gods seem to be against them.

I advance towards the table with my €10 free bet in my hand. I decide to keep it simple and place it all on red. I win, and I go on to win the next three times in a row, always betting on red. The mathematicians at the table look at me in disgust; they seem to have all lost about €300 in the last two spins. Feeling like a pro and thinking I may have figured out some never before thought about strategy, I place all my roulette winnings on red. Black comes up.

My roulette winnings are taken by the dealer, along with my hopes and dreams of becoming Ireland's best roulette spinner.

Feeling defeated by the game of pure chance, I scurry a few metres across the room to the blackjack table. There are two 20-year-old males in tracksuit bottoms and hoodies beside me. In my suit, I feel a bit out of place. I hadn't in the previous establishment.

As I am dealt my first hand at the table, a dispute erupts at the end of the room from one of the poker tables. Two men square up to each other and obscenities are exchanged until the antagonist is removed from the premises. Apparently after losing the hand the aggressive one called his opponent a donkey, though whatever relevance a farmyard animal has at the poker table remains a mystery.

I don't stay too long at the blackjack table; the tracky-bottomed duo are not great company and I don't speak their vernacular.

I join a poker game, filled with confidence -- having made a profit earlier in the night.

The lack of windows makes it hard to know if it's day or night and the bright lights and air conditioning keep the fatigue away.

I only stay at the poker table for an hour; my watch tells me it's 3.30am, my head tells me it's time to go home. I say my goodbyes to the other players before bringing my chips up to the cashier to be exchanged for money.

There are a few incorrigibles left on the roulette wheel, and no one is playing blackjack, but the poker tables are still full. No doubt the roulette wheel will keep spinning as long as punters keep flinging money at it. The Asian men have gone home, possibly to remortgage the house.

I hop into one of the waiting taxis, content after a successful night's work and €240 snug in my inside pocket.

Sunday Independent

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