Dara O’Kearney: Tapas and Taxes – A Trip Report From EPT Barcelona

  • Barcelona is an attractive proposition in August for the popular EPT event
  • The build-up to the event was slightly clouded by Spain’s plan to tax winners
  • Despite several issues created by the event’s popularity, staff coped well
  • I enjoyed plenty of fun away from the table and met old friends and new
Barcelona skyline
EPT Barcelona has become a highlight on many poker players’ calendars. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Barcelona in August

One of my pet peeves is the high esteem in which tapas is apparently held by people who otherwise have excellent taste in food. To my mind, it’s little more than overpriced glamourised bar snacks; nibbles at best, leftovers at worst, masquerading as fine dining. This is an unpopular opinion I suffered in silence until someone tried to serve my French gourmand wife some tapas, and she voiced the exact same opinion in much stronger terms.

EPT Barcelona has grown into one of the standout events on the European live calendar

Despite my view of tapas (and I’m not a massive fan of paella either), I am a big fan of Barcelona as a place. After Las Vegas, it’s probably the place I have travelled to the most to play cards. Barca in August is generally an attractive proposition, and over the course of my career EPT Barcelona has grown into one of the standout events on the European live calendar.

This year, the run-up to the event was clouded somewhat by a word no poker player wants to hear, taxes. I won’t go into detail (since David Lappin and I already did in our latest Lock-In) but the summary is that the Spanish government issued a statement of intent to tax EU residents 19% on any winnings, and non-EU residents 24%. This undoubtedly caused a number of players to rethink their plans to attend this year, including myself and David. In the end, we decided to go for the first week (so-called cheap week centred around the Estrellas 1K Main Event) but to skip the second week (EPT) for the reasons we outlined in the Lock-In. More on taxes later.

My schedule

I played the opening 1k freezeout, the Seniors, the Estrellas Main (five bullets!) and the Cup. The schedule was very much centred around the Estrellas Main, with very little to play besides that and satellites in the week I was there. I understand the event is a victim of its own success with the ever-increasing numbers straining the venue and staff to capacity, but it would be nice to see at least one modest buy-in turbo or hyper on the schedule every day for grassroots players to be able to play.

Speaking of the staff, the Stars team is a well-oiled machine at this point. In the past, the sheer numbers have caused some logistical issues, and on this occasion, it appears the local internet wasn’t able to handle the pace of bustouts on Day 2 of the Estrellas Main Event. In a knock-on effect of both the numbers and the delays, many players were locked out of the Cup, some of whom had travelled from abroad especially to attend.

the top-notch live events team under Toby Stone rose to the occasion

There will always be problems like this outside the control of the team: what matters is how the team responds to them. In this case, the top-notch live events team under Toby Stone rose to the occasion and handled it as best they could in difficult circumstances dealing with hundreds of frustrated customers. It’s difficult to see what could be done to prevent these issues, although some strain might be relieved if the Spanish stick to their guns and follow through on their declaration of intent to tax winnings at the event.

Events like this also serve as a social occasion, and the Stars live events team pulled out all the stops to put on a good programme of fun events for players away from the tables. I particularly enjoyed catching up with friends old and new, some of whom like Jennifer Shahade and Dean Clay I hadn’t seen in ages, and some of whom like Tobias Leknes and Georgina James (GJReggie) I was meeting for the first time.

Back to taxes

It remains to be seen if the Spanish will stick to their guns and follow through on their idea to tax winnings. If they do it will almost certainly affect numbers going forward, but it might not necessarily kill the event entirely as some fear.

Most of the people who cash the WSOP every year end up having to pay taxes on their winnings, and yet the event goes from strength to strength. In fact, one American player I spoke to said:

19% is nothing, I’m used to paying much more than that back home!”

I solved any personal problems I might have on that front by simply bricking everything. If you’re going to brick a trip (and you will once in a while: this was my first such live trip in ages), it might as well be the one you get taxed on, a fact I joked about when I posted a video of me calculating my tax liability based on whether it was 19% or 24%:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *