Profile of Famous Irish Gamblers: Celebrating the Emerald Isle’s Biggest Winners and Influencers

Ailís Breathnach
November 4, 2023

We all know that Ireland has some world class drinkers and alcoholics but thats not the only skill the emerald isle is renowned for because gambling is another skill that stands out.

The fact is, when it comes to producing some of the top gamblers in the world Ireland certainly packs a serious punch!From horse racing magnates to world poker champions Ireland is up there with the heavyweights when it comes to gambling legends.  

A word of advice: if any of the people in the list below offers to have a game of cards with you, just run for the hills, sprint like your life depends on it because when these guys are finished with you they’ll not only own the keys to your house they’ll also own underwear, socks, toothbrush and any other piece of merchandise you may have in your possession. 

This blog delves into the lives these iconic sharks of Irish gambling – individuals who have not only won big but also shocked the very world of gambling itself. 

1. JP McManus – The “Sundance Kid” of the Betting World:

Perhaps no conversation about Irish gambling is complete without mentioning John Patrick “J.P.” McManus. Hailing from Limerick, McManus began his journey in the world of gambling at local racecourses, armed with an almost prophetic knack for picking winners. The mans legendary status was cemented in 2010 when he won an eye-watering sum of €17 million in a private backgammon match. No small change is it? Well maybe for JP it is!

But it’s the horse racing scene where McManus has truly made his mark. As an owner, he has celebrated victories in major events like the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National. Beyond his wins, he’s known for his shrewd business sense, investing in various sectors, but his heart and considerable finance have always circled back to the equestrian sphere.

2. Dermot Desmond – The Financier with a Flair for the Felt:

Less a gambler and more a master strategist, Dermot Desmond’s name commands respect well beyond Irish borders. Though his primary claim to fame is in finance and investments, Desmond also dabbled quite successfully in gambling. His most notable exploit was a substantial win in the late 1980s, where he reportedly took the betting company Ladbrokes for over £1.5 million through a series of horse race bets, a tale that has adorned Irish gambling folklore.

Desmond’s influence is more pronounced behind the scenes, particularly with his investment in the betting exchange BETDAQ, which later sold to Ladbrokes. His moves in the gambling industry have been about innovation and pushing for regulatory reforms.

3. Andy Black – The Poker Maestro Turning Tides in Football:

Hailing from the Emerald Isle, Andy Black is more than just an Irish poker player – he’s a true card shark with a mischievous grin and a pot of gold in his pocket. Andys passion for poker is deep and his wins on the green felt have been similarly deep with some eye watering victories. 

Known for his quick wit and even quicker thinking at the poker table, Andy has a knack for turning a bad hand into a winning one, making him a formidable opponent. He’s the kind of guy who can charm the socks off you while secretly plotting to take all your chips.

His larger-than-life personality makes him stand out from the crowd. Come on, this guy even spent one year as a monk meditating in the jungle before he then maybe a poker comeback.

Andy’s Irish charm and infectious sense of humor make every hand of poker a memorable experience. Whether he’s regaling his opponents with stories of leprechauns and lucky clovers or keeping a straight face as he bluffs his way to victory, Andy is always the life of the poker party.

4. Barney Curley – The Mastermind Behind the Yellow Sam Betting Coup:

A legendary figure in horse racing betting, Barney Curley is renowned for orchestrating one of the biggest betting coups in Irish gambling history. In 1975, he strategically planned and executed a near-perfect bet at Bellewstown Racecourse, netting himself what would amount to millions in today’s money.

Curley’s life has been about more than just personal gain. Following the passing of his son, he’s devoted himself to charitable causes, funded by his gambling wins. His influence, particularly in advocating for fairness in gambling practices, is a testament to his legacy in the industry.

5. Stewart Kenny – The Visionary Behind Paddy Power:

No list of Irish gambling icons would be complete without mentioning Stewart Kenny, co-founder of one of the most recognizable brands in global gambling, Paddy Power. Kenny’s influence isn’t from big wins at races or casinos but rather his revolutionary impact on the industry.

Under Kenny’s guidance, Paddy Power became known for its unconventional marketing, humorous bets, and a dedication to customer satisfaction that set it apart in a crowded market. Though he has since stepped away from the company, his legacy continues to shape the industry’s landscape.

6. Donnacha O’Dea – The Poker Veteran:

Donnacha O’Dea, an iconic figure in Irish poker, has represented his country on the global stage countless times. O Dea was the first Irish player to win a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet and this alone marks him out as a legend in his own right.  His consistency over the years has cemented his place not only in the Poker Hall of Fame but as an Irish poker hero. . 

O’Dea’s influence has been instrumental in elevating the status of Irish poker worldwide, and his legacy extends through his son, Eoghan O’Dea, who follows in his father’s footsteps.

7. Phil Laak – Irish by Descent, Global by Presence:

Born in Dublin but raised in the US, Phil Laak is an international poker star with a connection to the Irish shores. Known as “The Unabomber” for his distinctive hoodie and sunglasses attire at the table, Laak has charmed the poker world with his skills and personality.

His achievements, including a WSOP bracelet and a World Poker Tour (WPT) title, are impressive, but it’s his larger-than-life persona that has caterpulated him into the realm of Irish gambling legends. 


Ireland’s gambling legends span a broad spectrum from horse racing to poker to innovative business leaders. Their contributions have not only brought considerable thrill and wealth but also helped shape the gambling scene at home and abroad. These legends have put Ireland on the global gambling map, not just as a country of keen punters, but also as a nation  of card and gambling sharks. Each with their unique flair, charisma, and skill set, these gamblers are a testament to the excitement and dynamism inherent in Ireland’s cultural fabric.

Author Ailís Breathnach

Sláinte! Meet Ailís Breathnach, the heart and soul behind Born in the lush landscapes of County Cork and educated in the bustling streets of Dublin, Ailís boasts over a decade of experience working with both online and land-based casinos. Her intricate knowledge of the industry is unmatched, making her the Emerald Isle's most reliable voice on all things casino. Having witnessed the dramatic evolution of the Irish gambling scene, from traditional gaming floors to the digital era, Ailís's insights are both rich in history and forward-looking. Today, she dedicates her time and expertise to provide avid gamers and novices alike with the latest news, honest reviews, and indispensable tips at Whether you're in search of the next big slot sensation or seeking a reputable site to place your bets, Ailís's words are the trusted guidepost. When she isn't decoding the intricate nuances of the latest casino offerings, you can find Ailís soaking in the local culture at her favourite Dublin pub, enjoying a cold pint of beer. A fervent football enthusiast, nothing quite matches her love for the game. Whether it's cheering for the Boys in Green or enjoying a riveting Premier League match, Ailís's passion is palpable. Join the ranks of Ailís's loyal readership, and arm yourself with the knowledge and confidence to navigate Ireland's ever-expanding casino world. Cheers to your next winning streak, under the guidance of the nation's leading expert! 🍀🎰⚽🍺