Although it is generally understood that casinos are illegal in Ireland, a number of private clubs offering mostly poker and blackjack have been operating quietly in Dublin for decades. Some of these clubs cater exclusively to Dublin’s long-established Asian community while others have a mixture of Asian and Irish customers.
Unlike many of these clubs however, Silks is planning to offer a range of gaming more usually associated with international casinos, such as blackjack, roulette, and baccarat. Also available will be fast poker, a three-card game increasingly popular in the UK, best described as a cross between blackjack and poker.
Woods and his partners have spent €2m restoring a Georgian building on Earlsfort Terrace, close to the National Concert Hall and across the road from the Conrad hotel. The new club will have a restaurant, private-members bar and a salon privée for corporate functions.
According to Woods, membership of the casino is expected to be drawn from Ireland’s racing community. He said: “We are trying to educate the Irish market that a casino is an interesting alternative to going to the pub. This is a club which would not be out of place in London’s Mayfair. We are looking at the very top end of the Irish market and also hope that the club will prove attractive to foreign visitors.”
Of the several private members’ clubs already operating in Dublin, those which cater mainly to the Asian community are normally built around blackjack tables while those aimed at an Irish membership tend to concentrate on poker.
Traditional poker, where players make the best five-card hand and bet against each other, rather than a banker, will not normally be played at Silks. However the club does include a full-sized professional poker table which will be made available for private games.
The new club will inevitably raise questions about the legality of casinos in Dublin. Various interests have attempted to build large casinos in the capital, but have been rebuffed by legislators. The proposed Phoenix Park scheme, which centred on plans for a conference centre attracted no fewer that 20,000 objections.
Woods said: “We are happy that as a private members’ club we will be operating fully within the law. That said, we would like to see legislation which would regulate gambling in Ireland and bring us in line with every other country in Europe.”
That legislation is unlikely, at least in the short term. A recent report by the Inter-Departmental Review Group on the Lottery and Gaming Act, recommended no new legislation.