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Happenings in Europe

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Nov 30, 2008

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United Kingdom

United KingdomThe UK has been the epicentre of the poker world throughout September. First, there was the World Series of Poker Europe held in our unusually sunny capital. While the thousands of passers-by in Leicester Square may have been scratching their heads as to why the nearby casino was drenched with people in cowboy hats, large teenagers in basketball shorts, and an abundance of sunglasses, UK poker was merely welcoming the world's greatest players to these humble shores.

As if the WSOPE wasn't enough, John Duthie and his frightfully successful European Poker Tour then invaded the Vic casino for another week of high-stakes madness. Yet, you've heard enough about these happenings for now. Instead, September's real developments in UK poker were taking place elsewhere; in Luton, on a laptop, on TV and ... in a Lincoln bar.

The Amateur Poker Association and Tour (APAT) concluded its second season with the inaugural APAT Pro-Am Masters. Its philosophy has always been to reward recreational players with tournaments that have great structures and an affordable buy-in. Its Pro-Am Masters event was slightly different however, with an inflated £300 buy-in (yet no registration fees, refreshingly) and the unique allowance that professional players were invited to sign up just this once. Attracting a decent field of 78 pros and amateurs alike, it was a familiar name from the UK poker scene who was the eventual winner. Midlander Neil Blatchley, champion in the Gala Casinos British Poker Tour Bristol event earlier in 2008, added this tournament to his CV, picking up £6,720 and a seat in the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour grand final, worth almost as much. It was a pro that took it down, but the final table was filled with regular APAT players, proving how important a training ground their tournaments are to aspiring poker players in the UK.

After the rise of Chris Moorman to the top of the online tournament world, another young British online pro made a big splash this month by winning Full Tilt Poker's huge event, the Sunday Brawl. Ben 'RookieITB' Turnstill came through a field of over 1,800 players on his way to the $73,000 score. Turnstill's triumph is yet further proof of the large number of top-class online tournament pros that the UK has in their ranks. Though they may not make as much noise as their live counterparts, the online tournament scene in Britain is thriving at the moment.

PokerStar's mercurial pro Daniel Negreanu has defeated many obstacles in his poker career; claiming four WSOP bracelets, being a consistent winner in the Bellagio's 'Big Game', and winning back-to-back World Poker Tour titles to name a few. One unique foe he and PokerStars couldn't overcome though was the British Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). As anyone living in the UK will know, PokerStars have been on a blitz of flashy marketing and advertising on the nation's buses, newspapers and, crucially, televisions over the past few months. We've witnessed the spectacle of Vanessa Rousso bungee-jumping off a cliff, Joe Hachem shooting basketballs, and err ... Boris Becker at a poker table.

Yet PokerStar's latest advert, featuring Negreanu, has been banned on the basis that it makes gambling seem attractive and appealing to young men. The reason for this is Negreanu's claim that poker requires "courage, conviction, and confidence," apparently desirable traits in the youth of today. While UK law regarding gambling is far less lenient than the USA for example, there is still a stigma attached to poker in the mainstream that the ASA's ruling has highlighted. In many eyes, poker is no better than roulette or blackjack as purely a game of chance, and not the complex battle of skill we all know it to be.

Dave CainLast but not least, inside a bar on the Lincoln University campus, poker enthusiast Dave Cain shattered the world record for most continuous hours spent playing heads-up poker. Raising money for charity, Cain took on all-comers in £5 and £10 games for an amazing 74 hours before having to call it quits. His original target was over 100 hours but Cain detailed that he was unfortunately forced to end his attempt early due to suffering "somewhat of a nervous breakdown."

Shane Gittes is a freelance poker writer from the UK.


Gibraltar

Rock-a-bye Party

As revealed in a previous edition of this column, Gibraltar-based gaming firm PartyGaming recently parted company with its former chief executive officer, Mitch Garber. Garber had been the third PartyGaming CEO in as many years and had presided over large changes in the organisation, including those surrounding the US ban on internet gambling which shocked the industry less than six months into his incumbency.

As Garber moved onto pastures new, supposedly returning to seek employment in his native Canada, the search for a new CEO at PartyGaming was still in full flow. Jim RyanGarber and his predecessor Richard Segal had reportedly pocketed well over £50 million in salaries and bonuses between them over the space of only three years, so it is hardly surprising that this was a well sought-after job. After a lengthy and confidential selection process, Jim Ryan, 46, a veteran of the online gaming industry, and previously the CEO of Gibraltar-based gaming outfit St. Minver, was named as Garber's replacement.

Ryan's appointment was part of a larger reshuffle at PartyGaming that saw its former chief games officer John O'Malia assume the newly created role of managing director. A further change saw former non-executive chairman Michael Jackson step down from his role and the beginning of the firm's formal search to find an appropriate successor. Jackson famously pocketed £1.5 million during the firm's much-publicised float on the London Stock Exchange in June 2005.

Unlike his predecessors however, Ryan has had to make do with a rather less attractive remuneration package. With a salary reported to be in the region of £500,000, a share ownership package including 15 million free shares will have been the main attraction for him. However, Ryan will have to wait to reap the full benefit of his package since, in an attempt to ensure the longevity of his tenure, the shares will be distributed over the length of his five-year contract.

Few will doubt that Ryan will have his work cut out in restoring PartyGaming's fortunes. The company has once again reported a drop in the number of people playing on its PartyPoker site, a fact which has largely overshadowed positive first-half results and has prompted numerous downgrades to its earnings forecasts.
According to Ryan, sites which have continued to accept players from the US "... represent a continuing competitive threat to listed businesses like PartyGaming, that immediately stopped customers in the U.S. from playing or making deposits on any of the group's real money sites following the enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act". But unfair competition from these rival sites is just one of the many problems he will have to deal with in his new position.

His first major action for example, has been the hugely unpopular decision to cut PartyGaming's Gibraltar workforce. This was supposedly done as part of a new global strategy for the firm. The redundancy plan would take place subject to a 60-day consultation period during which it would be decided what posts within the organisation would be at risk. In November 2006, PartyGaming axed approximately 20 percent of its Gibraltar-based employees. Now, it is feared that another wholesale cull is on the horizon with each of PartyGaming's 320 Gibraltar-based employees at risk. PartyGaming spokesman John Shepherd explained to Gibraltar's television broadcaster (GBC), that the company had been forced into this position by changes in the gaming market. However Shepherd also added that despite the prospect of job cuts, PartyGaming remained committed to Gibraltar and planned to introduce new posts in the future.

The Gibraltar government was quick to react to the news from PartyGaming and has suggested that it would be in favour of granting further gaming licences which would allow the entry of new gaming firms to the Rock. The idea would be that these new firms would soak up any job losses resulting from the PartyGaming redundancies, as well as any other culls which may be on the horizon in other Gibraltar-based gaming firms during these uncertain times.

Tristan Cano lives and writes about the gaming industry in Gibraltar.


Ireland

Cork Man Wins Irish Poker Festival

Ladbrokes PokerThe Ladbrokes.com Irish Poker Festival, held early October in Killarney, Ireland saw a record-breaking 832 players take to the felt for the €500 + €50 buy-in main event in what was the largest field ever assembled for a European ranking tournament. Cork man Jimmy McSweeney triumphed over the field and collected the €100,000 first prize.

Capacity for the event was raised from 625 to 750 one week before hand but the organisers' clever use of the alternates system meant no-one was disappointed and the colossal field generated a prize pool of €416,000, well in excess of the €250,000 guaranteed by Ladbrokes.com.

Bryan Coleman, Irish territory manager at Ladbrokes.com said, "We're absolutely delighted with the turnout and would like to thank all the players who made this festival such a success. Our heartiest congratulations go to Jimmy who is a worthy champion and we're sure we'll be hearing more of him in the future."

The field saw many well know Irish poker faces participate including Roy Brindley, Scott Gray, and Marty Smyth but it was McSweeney who outplayed the field. In the final hand of the evening, holding a significant chip lead, he called Andrew Roberts' all-in showing 6-6 to Roberts A-9. The board blanked Roberts and he collected the €65,000 second prize.

The €270 + €30 side event, which attracted 391 entries creating a prize pool of €105,000 was won by John Lavin from Mayo who took down the €25,000 first prize. The festival was filmed for documentary broadcast on Irish terrestrial TV station TG4 and for subsequent distribution to networks around the world. A web stream of the documentary will also be available on LadbrokesPoker.com. The event will return next year.

Irish Open Details Announced

Everyone's favourite tournament the PaddyPowerPoker.com Irish Open returns in 2009. The buy in for the main event next year is €3,200 + €300 and the festival takes place from April 9 to 13 in Citywest Hotel.

Players who qualify for the event at PaddyPowerPoker.com can take part in the €100,000 Sole Survivor promotion which will see the qualifier who lasts longest in the main event at the Irish Open 2009 win a €100,000 package which will enable them to play professionally for a year.

Watch this space as more details of the event unfold.

Irish Poker Championship Polish Qualifiers

Fintan GavinRecent European Poker Tour finalist Fintan Gavin and Poker for the Homeless organiser Padraig Parkinson travelled to Warsaw in mid-October to play in a bounty tournament, the prizes for which were two tickets to the upcoming PartyPoker.com Irish Poker Championship taking place in Galway in January 2009.

Also attending the tournament was TV producer Ian Langstaff who will be producing the TV coverage of the IPC and was filming footage at the Olympic Casino as well as playing in the tournament.

Twenty-six players paid €99 to play and the two qualifiers for the IPC were Krzysztof Gluszko and Dariusz Graszka. Two others, Krzysztof Ksiazek and Maciej Kurowski each received a $500 bonus to their PartyPoker accounts for knocking out Parkinson and Gavin respectively.

Details for the PartyPoker.com Irish Poker Championship will be released soon. In January 2008 the televised event attracted 298 players and was won by local man Jude Ainsworth who took home €145,000 players.

Jobs for the Irish Boys?

A report commissioned by the Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland, published in October, predicts that the regulation of casinos and online gaming could generate up to 13,000 jobs and as much as €280 million in tax receipts by 2020.

DKM Economic Consultants, who undertook the study, say the casino sector could contribute up to €50 million each year in tax revenue.

Online gaming would be the most profitable sector for the economy, earning tax revenue of up to €230 million each year while employing up to 10,000 people in IT, financial services, and support services.

Brendan Murray is the European bureau chief for Card Player.


Holland

Poker Players Fall Victim to New Tax Law


Holland poker lawIt has been rather quiet on the legal front since April 1, when the Dutch Senate rejected the proposed law that would further strengthen the government monopoly on gambling, but on Sep. 9, Dutch poker players got a rather nasty wake-up call. When they got out of bed that day, amendment 30,583 had already been accepted by the Senate without even taking a vote. It soon appeared to be that Dutch poker players had woken up in a different world. It was a seemingly innocent amendment to the law on gaming tax, to also include taxation of online gambling, which of course not only includes sports betting, casino games, and lotteries, but also poker.

To understand the weirdness of the situation, we must realise in the first place that online gambling is considered an illegal activity in Holland. Dutch citizens are not allowed to gamble on the Internet, when they are within the Dutch borders. But since they figured that hundreds of thousands of people play on the Internet anyway, because it simply can't be prevented, they might as well tax it.

For the Dutch, this part didn't come so much as a surprise, because they've seen the same policy already enforced on other pillars of Dutch society, like brothels and coffee shops, but this time, it gets a little scarier.

The new law states that the players have to pay a 29 percent gaming tax on their monthly winnings. This means that they can deduct cash game losses and tournament buy-ins, which looks like a good thing, but if players have a losing month, they can't carry over those losses to the next. So, it will be even more difficult to make good on losses that might have occurred in previous months, and it will significantly increase the percentage if you look at it on a yearly basis.

Furthermore, online gamblers are now required to turn in their results on a monthly basis by themselves. Since online gambling is considered an illegal activity, this raised a lot of eyebrows within the poker community. People that practice an illegal activity are now forced to make themselves known, because, logically, not turning in your monthly online winnings to the Dutch I.R.S. equals tax evasion, which is an activity that the government is even less likely to turn a blind eye to. So which is the better choice between the two? Are there other options?

Rob Hollink immediately announced his retirement from tournament poker in a nation-wide newspaper, but others decided not to bow down just yet.

A group of poker players got some legal help to try and figure out what the implications of this new law are exactly, but others didn't want to wait. If poker was declared not to be a game of chance, this whole new tax law wouldn't apply to poker players anymore, so the problem would be solved from the other end. This enticed a few people to go to court one more time, to try and get poker officially recognised as a skill game, with Professor Ben van der Genugten as an expert witness, who developed a rating system to determine the skill factor in a number of games, rating poker up there with bridge, and backgammon, where it should be.

The Dutch higher court decided back in 1998 that poker is a game of chance, but the times have changed since then. Players are vastly more educated in the game, so the argument that the majority of people play the game as a game of chance, without any knowledge of how to positively influence the outcome, doesn't apply anymore. On top of that, more arguments can be found that the skill factor in poker has a dominant influence on someone's results.

I personally always liked the argument that in poker, someone can lose on purpose, which, by definition, proves that the game has a significant skill factor. I mean, try losing on purpose in roulette, or in a lottery for that matter. It's just not possible. You put your money down, and you hope for the best. That's a true game of chance. On second thought, it is possible to lose on purpose in roulette, but that can only happen if you put the same amount on every available number. But even doing that in the short time span you have between spins requires a certain amount of skill, so that can quickly be disregarded.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have large multi-day poker tournaments, where in the end, you literally have made a couple of thousand decisions, before you've got that bracelet around your wrist. In every hand, on every street, you made one or more decisions that had significant influence on the outcome, and if all went well, the prize money you received. And that money is to be treated the same way as lottery winnings? I see there's a possibility that they might actually have a case here.

Unfortunately, the only thing we can do is hope and pray that the judges will rule in our favourur, or else all online poker players will remain criminals, and I guess that makes the national poker association a criminal organisation. Maybe in the mean time, we can find a betting website that's got some good odds on this thing. I can see the irony in the entire Dutch poker community betting their monthly winnings on the judges' ruling to avoid having to pay tax, and officially be labeled a 'gaming offender'. And if they win the bet, they'll be freerolling their tax returns for the next four months. Maybe even a year, if the odds are good enough. I say, deal me in.

Peter Dalhuijsen is a professional poker player who writes for PokerCollege.nl.


Scandinavia

Unlike last month, this column will feature news from almost all of Scandinavia, although Danes and Swedes have made the most noise on the circuit for the past few weeks. Finland is being alarmingly silent at the moment, notwithstanding smaller tournaments being held. For those interested in playing close to Finnish waters, there are more poker cruises coming up between Finland and Sweden soon, with satellites on smaller poker sites.

Double Danish Bracelets and a Championship

Jesper HougaardPerhaps the biggest news this week is Jesper Hougaard and Theo Jørgensen taking on World Series of Poker Europe fields filled with professionals and both claiming victory. Hougaard brought £144,218 and his second WSOP bracelet home to Denmark, outlasting 409 opponents a few days after deciding to enter the £1,500 no-limit hold'em event. His fellow countryman Jørgensen thought that £218,626 would make a nice bankroll addition and crushed the competition in the $5,000 pot-limit Omaha tournament, one that saw Erik Friberg of Sweden and Finn Tomi Nybäck on the final table as well. With Bengt Sonnert taking fourth place in the main event and Erik Albinsson (both are Swedes) just barely making the final table of the H.O.R.S.E. competition, the European World Series stops have to be considered a Scandinavian success story.

Meanwhile, back at home, Johnny Jensen wreaked poker havoc on his opponents in the Danish Championships held recently, finishing first and winning €155,000 in a deal with his heads-up opponent, Sonny Sareen. Jensen had a previous cash finish from 2005, but this win - over 149 other players - marks his first major victory. The event has a €4,000 buy-in.

Attempted Fraud

Yet another Danish pro, Peter Jepsen, recently received a lucrative offer from Swedish production company OTW. OTW is planning new seasons of The Game, a high-stakes TV show, and wanted Jepsen to join in on the action. The parties began sending e-mails back and forth, until Jepsen received a link to a PDF file with further information.

There was just one problem: the file was an executable containing a trojan and/or virus, and was not sent by OTW at all. In fact, when Jepsen contacted the company, they wrote back to state that they do not invite players; they just film the actual episodes. Presumably, some gold digger tried to place a key logger in Jepsen's computer, in order to grab parts of the Dane's recent winnings on Full Tilt Poker. This time, however, the attempt failed, and the malware was caught by anti-virus software in time.

Even More Norwegian Anti-Gambling Laws?

Trond Giske, Norwegian Minister of Culture and Church Affairs, famously suggested about half a year ago that Norwegian banks be prohibited from administering money transfers from and to gambling sites. This move was heavily inspired by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in force in the USA, and its sequel is currently being directed by Giske in Norwegian newspapers.

The politician claims to be scared by "the cynicism and aggressive games offered by developers on the internet" after online gaming saw a huge increase in the country, roughly the same half a year ago, when slot machines were outlawed.

Unsurprisingly, Giske intends to stop foreign gambling sites at the border but he has no plans of decreasing turnover for Norsk Tipping (Norwegian Gambling), the state-owned company that currently enjoys a nation-wide monopoly.

Stortinget, the Norwegian Parlia-ment, will likely see a vote on the subject in the near future. All it needs is a formal motion from Giske.

Swede Takes Second in EPT tournament - No, It's Not Mats Sundin

PokerStars announced a somewhat unexpected addition to their team of professionals recently - ice hockey player Mats Sundin joined in time to play in the European Poker Tour stop in Barcelona. 'Sudden', as he is called, is a household name in Sweden and arguably the currently most revered person in Toronto. This didn't help him at the felt, though, and he was sent home during the fifth level of play, promising to return for more poker fun in the future.

The second EPT stop of the season saw Michael Tureniec making a better attempt at defending the blue and yellow colours, an attempt that wasn't put to an end until American Michael Martin called his bluff, and took Tureniec out in second place. An impressive £525,314 left London as the Swede flew home - and a million pounds were exchanged for dollars for Martin - after the best Swedish EPT performance since Magnus Petersson's success in Copenhagen two seasons ago.

Joel Hinz is a freelance poker journalist.