McDonagh the Master

He goes by many names. President of the APPT. ANZPT Commissioner. His official title is Director of Live Operations (Asia Pacific) and as of next year, he'll be also known as an Australian Poker Hall of Famer, but to those who know him best, he's just Danny.

Back in 2004 though, this reporter only knew Danny McDonagh as a pit boss whilst employed as a croupier at Crown Casino in Melbourne. Seven years later, we now find ourselves relaxing fireside at a casino in Queenstown, New Zealand, discussing his poker career, but it's clear that when he talks about his role in the industry, he wouldn't have it any other way.

"I get a kick out of managing events," he said. "I've got a real interest in poker, but would I class myself as a great player? Definitely not. I think to be a good administrator, you've got to be a little bit removed from the love of playing the game to focus on running it."

Danny McDonagh solving the problem between Milan Gurung and his opponent

Danny McDonagh in action at PokerStars Macau

Working in finance before starting as a croupier at Crown in 1994, McDonagh's career in the gaming industry has seen him rise rapidly through the ranks. By 1997 he was promoted to Poker Tournament Director, running regular games in the original Crown Poker Room, which compared to how it looks today, was miniscule.

"We originally had 20 tables and went as low as 12, but now there's over 60 permanent tables at the moment," McDonagh recalls. "It was June 30 when we opened up and we started tournaments in September, which at that stage, was just a $50 tournament on a Sunday and a Manila tournament on a Monday night."

Over the next 10 years, McDonagh was a key player in not just Crown's poker operations, but the entire "Great Australian Poker Boom", after a former chiropractor from Melbourne by the name of Joseph Hachem won USD$7.5 million in the 2005 WSOP Main Event. McDonagh, however, doesn't credit the Team PokerStars Pro's victory as the sole reason for the new Aussie love affair with America's favourite card game.

"In 2003, the World Poker Tour started on television and we had all these young guys coming in, desperately wanting to play the game that they saw on TV [No Limit Hold'em]," he said. "And then Joe went in a year-and-a-half-later to the World Series and that was that second explosion."

The effect that Hachem's victory had on the country was profound: from just 74 players in a $1000 buy-in Main Event in the Crown Australasian Poker Championships in 1998, the series evolved into the multi-million dollar extravaganza that we know today as the Aussie Millions. And in 2008, a record field of 780 players took part in the $10,000 Main Event - something which McDonagh considers "his proudest achievement". That's not to say that there's been just as many challenges.

"It took something like the Aussie Millions for Crown to realise and begin to appreciate true the value of poker. With these major events, you're getting all the cross-over action - food and beverage, hotel bookings, shopping and playing the other offerings that they have in the casino. And poker is always pro-press."


Danny McDonagh (far right) as Commissioner during the 2009 ANZPT Melbourne event

Now based in Macau, McDonagh is once again playing a role in the development of the burgeoning Asian poker market, which includes the day-to-day operations of PokerStars Macau, PokerStars' live poker room at the Grand Lisboa Hotel & Casino. While McDonagh admits that they've only begun to "scratch the surface" of poker in Asia, the popularity of the game is beginning to take off, with reports of 60-70% increases in their special events like the Macau Millions, the Macau Poker Cup Championship and the APPT Macau series every year.

However, some concepts that were developed for the Australian poker market haven't been so well received in Macau: "It's interesting ... the three stages of satellites that they run for the Aussie Millions Main Event ... players in Asia aren't interested in satellites until the week of the event," he said. "We've also found that we've had to start tournaments later in the day. Early starts in the morning doesn't work here in Asia, except if it's for a championship event. It's just a different mindset, I guess."


Nevertheless, McDonagh's contribution to the Australasian poker industry has been profound, so much so that it's earned him a place in the Australian Poker Hall of Fame, and he'll be inducted alongside one of his lifelong friends next year - 2011 APPT Melbourne Main Event champion, Leo Boxell.

"I'm happy that I'm being inducted at the same time as Leo," he said. "He goes back to my early days and he had a huge run back in 2000 and 2001 with the Australian Championships, the Aussie Millions and the New Zealand Poker Championships, but he went missing for a few years after that. Now, he's come back and confirmed his place as a Hall of Famer. Still, it's something that I'm obviously very proud of."

The 2011 APPT Macau Main Event from November 23-29 at the Grand Lisboa Hotel & Casino. For more information on this or other events at the PokerStars Macau poker room, visit their website:

Landon Blackhall
@PokerStars in Queenstown