Galway has hosted large poker events in the past but, in recent years, the lack of an airport in the city and of a venue big enough to host the increasingly popular tournaments left event promoter FintanGavin thinking Galway’s days of hosting such events were at an end.
He knew the airport issue was surmountable; with Ireland West Airport Knock an hour away and Dublin now only a two-hour drive from Galway, the major problem was a venue big enough to comfortably hold several hundred poker players at a time.
It occurred to Mr Gavin, a former winner on the UK and Irish Poker Tour, that the world’s largest poker website and leading tournament organiser PokerStars, which hosted events here previously, would return to the city if a suitable venue was chosen “because their players loved Galway”.
Long after the last yacht left Galway Harbour, the legacy of the Volvo Ocean Race can still be felt here and, inspired by how admirably the city had coped with the large event, Mr Gavin hit on the idea of constructing a temporary festival village to host a major poker tournament.
“The Volvo kind of inspired me there. That was so successful,” he says. He duly pitched the idea to PokerStars and, once they had done their research on the success of the Volvo Ocean Race, they “ran with it”, he says.
The event has since been branded under PokerStars’ sister company, the newly-relaunched Full Tilt Poker, and they have brought their considerable expertise and financial clout to bear in organising the Full Tilt Poker Galway Festival, which will run at Galway Docks from 27 July until 12 August.
“[PokerStars] like Galway. They go to very attractive cities around the world. They select their cities very carefully. For them, it’s all about the player experience, player comfort,” says Mr Gavin.
Around 25,000 people are expected to visit the festival village over the course of the event, with 3,000 of these being unique visitors and two-thirds of these coming from overseas.
“They’re bringing over several A-list poker players from Europe, America – from all over the world,” says Mr Gavin. Gus Hansen, Jake Cody, Victor Bloom and Liv Boeree are among the top players already confirmed to attend.
The festival itself consists of over 60 tournaments, with the main event carrying a guaranteed €1 million prize pool. Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars do not have sportsbooks or casinos on their sites – an important distinction, notes Mr Gavin.
“They’re all tournaments. Tournaments range in buy-ins from €35 up to €10,000. So, it caters from the high-roller, the professional, and also for your recreational player as well,” he says.
The festival has as yet to receive official support from Fáilte Ireland or from local or national government, despite a predicted direct impact of €3.5million for Galway City, a figure Mr Gavin feels is likely conservative. “We’d imagine it’ll be a lot greater than that,” he says.
Mr Gavin’s role is now largely as an ambassador for the event and for Galway, and he feels the city has plenty to shout about. “I think Galway is a very unique place. From the events I’ve been involved with in Galway, the player feedback has always been extremely positive. Players just love it. I don’t think you can even quantify what it is, I think it’s just the atmosphere. It’s a city but it’s so small and beautiful and it’s kind of quirky.”
It’s a quality that, unquantifiable though it is, Galway needs to exploit, he says. While festivals like the Galway Races and Galway Arts Festival are the city’s bread and butter, smaller festivals like the Full Tilt Poker Galway Festival and the PTC Snooker Tournament can be of great benefit to the region.
“I would like to see the tourist board getting involved, looking at these avenues and promoting them even further and making life easy for these big companies who want to spend money to run events here.”
For more information on the Full Tilt Poker Galway Festival, see www.ukipt.com/tournaments/galway.