VSO Exclusive: Ex-Tournament Director Dishes the Dirt on Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Card Club

entrance to the Fitzwilliam Casino & Card Club in Dublin, Ireland
An ex-tournament director at the Fitzwilliam Card Club in Dublin, Ireland, has opened up on his experience working at the casino in a tell-all interview with VegasSlotsOnline. [Image: FitzwilliamCardClub.com]

December 16, 2019 saw the popular Fitzwilliam Card Club in Dublin close its doors after 16 years of trading. The closure has left up to 80 members of staff jobless just one week before Christmas.

The private members club has cited changes in the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019, which passed all stages in the Oireachtas on December 11, as being the reason behind its closure.

Earlier today, VegasSlotsOnline’s Dan Katz caught up with Daragh Thomas; a popular figure on the Irish poker scene, to discuss the casino’s closure, and an ugly situation that was prevalent in one of Ireland’s biggest casinos.

VSO: Good afternoon Daragh. Thanks for meeting up with us. How are you?

Daragh: I’m great, thanks. I’m not so happy for a lot of friends and former colleagues after the news of the Fitzwilliam casino closing broke last night.

VSO: Yes, that’s a horrible situation for staff, especially this close to Christmas. What’s your thoughts on it?

Daragh: It’s a terrible shock and shame for the staff and players – they got only one day’s notice!

The whole thing seems very strange to me as no other venue is closing. The legislation is a long time coming and doesn’t seem to change anything. They had been struggling financially for a long time. It just seems like an excuse.

VSO: We’ll be keeping out eye on the story to see how it develops, as there’s usually no smoke without fire.

Daragh: Exactly!

VSO: For people outside of Ireland that may not know you, can you tell us how you got involved in poker?

Daragh: I got invited to a charity event and came third. I was immediately hooked! It wasn’t long before I started playing full time, and I made a comfortable living for several years.

VSO: You moved from playing poker to working for casinos in 2011. Eventually, you worked your way up to the position of Tournament Director at the Fitzwilliam casino. How was that journey?

Daragh: An interesting one! Following my spell as a full-time player, I worked for Full Tilt in the security department before taking up the role of Tournament Director at the Fitzwilliam casino. So, I got to see a lot of different aspects of poker. Some good, some bad.

VSO: Now is not the only time that the Fitz (Fitzwilliam Card Club) has been in the news recently. Two men were charged with stealing €23k ($25.6k) from a lady who won big playing roulette in 2016. Did it surprise you that something like this happened?

Daragh: No, it didn’t surprise me at all. There was a very similar instance last year. It’s unfortunate, but this is not that uncommon an occurrence.

VSO: It wasn’t just a one-off occurrence then? At least the culprits get reported and barred though?

Daragh: Not in my experience. I could tell you about any number of cheats who were let back in, but the incident that really comes to mind is when a player, after receiving a bad beat, stabbed the table with a knife he was secretly carrying in his pocket. He was barred for that incident, but he reappeared again a few months later.

VSO: That must have been scary, for both players and the staff?

Daragh: Let’s just say that dealers were on edge for quite some time whenever they dealt someone a bad beat or dealt a hand where someone lost a lot of money.

VSO: Going back to the robbery that I mentioned above; your first post on the Irishpokerboards.com forum relating to the crime on November 21 said, and I quote, ‘At least this time it didn’t involve long term staff (probably)’. Are you implying that this may have happened before, and company employees were involved?

The last time something like this happened, it was widely rumored a staff member was involved

Daragh: The last time something like this happened, it was widely rumored a staff member was involved. That time a board member got beaten up. Thank God no one was stabbed.

VSO: It seems that cheating and stealing is rife, and happens at all levels, from poker to gaming. Pure greed seems to be the driving factor?

Daragh: There have been a few incidents in the news recently that got me thinking. The first one was the incident you already mentioned, but the second didn’t happen in Ireland.

I assume most of your readers will have heard of the Mike Postle cheating scandal. For those that don’t, a player called Mike Postle played poker for quite a long period of time on a casino’s live stream and posted incredible results. It’s commonly accepted that he had software on his phone that told him what his opponents had. He never lost!

The only reason that this was brought to life was that he took it way too far. Rather than using it cleverly, he spent months making ridiculous calls and folds, always getting it right. In one hand he got all in with 45o for 100bbs against two AK’s. This is not something any winning player does, or tries to do. But if you can see the cards?

So, every so often in the poker world, a scandal like this comes along, and they are all treated uniquely, but really when something like this comes along, you must think to yourself; what are people getting away with?

Are there Mike Postles out there clever enough to get away with it? Having worked in the industry in Ireland for eight years, I suspect there are plenty of Mike Postles out there.

VSO: Yeah, we gave that story quite a lot of airtime. If that can happen on a stream where the world’s eyes are on you, then I can only imagine what happens in the local casinos.

Daragh: Exactly. If something like this can happen in the states, where they have gaming boards with real power, what is happening in Ireland?

Players should realize that there is no one looking out for their security, or the integrity of the game. There is no regulator, and most of the staff running or operating poker in Ireland are not looking for cheating, and in most cases might not recognize it even if they do see it.

Before you play at a RFID (radio frequency identification) table, ask yourself, what’s the benefit for you as a player? What are the risks? Do you trust the operator? Do you not only trust the operator but trust that he has procedures in place to protect against someone working for him using the feed illegitimately? Do you trust their staff?

VSO: Having been involved in poker on both sides of the felt, can you give us some examples of things that you know have happened, or you saw happen at events?

Daragh: You don’t need to see things to know they are probably occurring. Just look at the data. Some Dublin casinos publish results from their high buy-in tournaments, and that data is extremely suspicious.

There are players who have almost god-like results, going back years. Some of these players are widely rumored to have been cheating, and some are in the news for criminal acts.

At least some of the places to play poker in Dublin have little or no systems in place to protect their chips. Given all that, I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that cheating isn’t occurring.

VSO: So, how does cheating in poker tournaments take place? Are dealers giving or selling chips to players?

Daragh: That’s one way for it to occur. Players can also take chips from small buy-in tournaments and reintroduce them into larger buy-in tournaments.

There are a number of players who were barred for short periods of time for taking chips home for small tournaments. They all claim they were taking them as souvenirs.

One guy in the Fitz, having been caught cheating, came back with a chip with a hole drilled through it!

One guy in the Fitz, having been caught cheating, came back with a chip with a hole drilled through it! He said he was planning on hanging it on his wall! Despite being a known cheat, he was back playing shortly after that.

VSO: Are there any ways to prevent this sort of cheating?

Daragh: There are a number of ways to combat it, including keeping a count of the large denomination chips and harsh punishments for offenders. That really isn’t the bare minimum of what is needed, but at least it’s a pretense. This wasn’t the case for many years where I worked.

To really combat it you need management to tackle it with creativity and enthusiasm. It only takes one rogue dealer to undermine the integrity of the tournament.

If there are any Tournament Directors reading this, get rid of chips races. Chips races are a massive danger for the integrity of the tournament, and for what benefit? Even if the dealers aren’t passing players chips it’s a chance for them to make a large mistake. Just round up. At the very least you need to supervise it.

VSO: During your time as a Tournament Director, did you ever do anything to prevent this sort of cheating?

Daragh: Yes, I did a couple of things. One thing people should keep in mind though is that where I worked, the TD (Tournament Director) is basically just a dealer.

You start work 15 mins before the tournament starts, you get paid roughly the same and you finish before the end of the tournament. During a busy tournament, you are rushed off your feet and have no backup TD to help you. Management don’t want to spend the extra few euros an hour to run it properly.

I think players should really be aware of the reality of the situation, you are playing against people who have cheated in the past, and there are no systems in place to protect you now.

VSO: That’s a bit of an eye-opener for people that regularly play here. How widespread do you think this sort of behavior is overall, or is it just confined to the Fitzwilliam casino?

Daragh: Human behavior is the same wherever you go. Until players take the integrity of the games they play in seriously, or a regulator does it for them, the operators will continue to behave as they do now.

VSO: Well I know I’ll be keeping a closer eye on things from now on whenever I sit down at a poker table!

Daragh: Good. Make sure you count the rake!

VSO: Daragh, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks a lot for taking the time out to talk to us today, and for being so open about your experiences.

Daragh: You’re welcome.