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Poker Run’s Poker Stakes

The summer season brings us many annual traditions in the Thousand Islands, several that are a staple in the fabric of the region. However, one such gathering has recently straddled the line between benevolence and controversy, stemming from two “camps” that view the event with a very different perspective.

The annual Thousand Islands Poker Run is a popular event for many who make the boat trip along the St. Lawrence River. An estimated 50,000 people view and take part in this annual experience that threads the River connection between Confederation Basin in Kingston with Brockville and Prescott.

The thumbnail of the event focuses around a poker tournament in which a card is drawn at several stops along the route in the 1000 Islands (Card #1 is drawn in Kingston; Card #2 in Brockville; #3 in Prescott; and #4-5 back in Kingston). A high speed motorboat caravan travels between the stops (nearly 150 boats), often at speeds in the 50mph range. Along with the card drawing and related awards, peripheral festivities involved with the main event contribute to several area charities.

Despite the intentions of the Poker Run, it is frequently cited by environmentalists as an example of conspicuous consumption and pollution. The opposing sides of the issue have been engaged in a long-term disagreement over the event. 

Recently, officials in the City in Kingston engaged in a research study to evaluate (and perhaps refute), the claims of the event’s dissidents. The new report that was generated by the Kingston City Environmental Committee, (Copy available on Kingston’s webpage of the City of Kingston’s Report to Council, January 30, 2010) analyzed various emitters of carbon dioxide, including the Poker Run participants. Other data collected centered around dock damage as well as disruptions to the aquatic life.

The conclusion by the researchers suggested that the event’s environmental impact is relatively minimal (equivalent to 100-200 tons of carbon dioxide emissions; similar to a 757 flight between Toronto and Vancouver), and that the Poker Run’s criticism is probably more focused on the character of boats, rather than the alleged impact on the environment.

However, recent deliberations at Kingston City Hall are attempting to financially mitigate the environmental issue through “carbon offsets”, which would be a payment from the Poker Run stakeholders for the pollution caused by the boats involved. For several years, the event’s dissenters have also made an argument that the City of Kingston’s position of promoting itself as an “environmentally sustainable city” is undermined through the allowance of such an event; which could be argued as a point by which the Kingston council brought forth the fee proposal.

The City of Kingston’s conclusion seems to put itself in a neutral position to control its own decision with regard to continuing the event. Organizers have repeatedly stated that if Kingston decides to opt out of the Poker Run, there are several other communities in the Thousand Islands region that would be willing to host the event (and the associated local tourist revenue that generates well over 1 million dollars into the regional economy). Through the fee proposal and intended usage, Kingston can claim that it is doing so to uphold their attempt to continue the “environmental sustainability” mission of the city.


As one does notice, even with a tranquil night on the dock, the controversies of a much larger issue are within our region as well. The news from this event, scheduled to take place from August 6-8, will continue to unfold as we approach the summer.

By James Rappaport, Indian Point

James Rappaport is a strategic management consultant for publishing, radio, and cable television ventures as well as contributing writer for several media outlets.  He is a summer resident of Indian Point in the Town of Hammond and lives in Connecticut in the winter.

Posted in: Event, News Article
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Steven Black
Comment by: Steven Black ( )
Left at: 12:18 AM Monday, February 15, 2010
One question: where is the math that shows "the associated local tourist revenue that generates well over 1 million dollars into the regional economy"?

Bearing in mind, of course, that an August weekend is sold-out, or nearly at-capacity say, Poker-run or not.

Were this event held in May, or September, then we could possibly observe economic impacts. But if marinas and hotels are sold-out in any event, one cannot say much about benefits of the Poker Run.

Years ago Kingston's Downtown BIA conducted a survey of attendees at the Blues Festival, which is scheduled in August during the annual CORK regatta, which attracts hundreds of boats and thousands of people for extended stays. The survey findings? An astonishing number of people from out-of-town come to the Blues Festival. Much collegial downtown back-slapping and self-agreement ensues from that, as you can imagine. The simple fact is lots of those folks are here anyway, Blues Festival or not.

Last year's poker run: fewer than 70-boats. Two people per boat are included as part of Poker Run fees. Add as many hangers-on as you can imagine. Consider that the local hotels do a great job of monopolizing all the accommodation revenues, the evening events (invitation-only parties, and prize-givings) and other things like breakfasts. "Well over a million dollars into the regional economy"? Where does that high-falutin' number come from?
Larry Beck
Comment by: Larry Beck ( )
Left at: 7:09 AM Monday, February 15, 2010
You shoud check out the great pictures from Paul and Lil Cooledge on thier site Thanks Larry
Jackie Woodside
Comment by: Jackie Woodside ( )
Left at: 9:23 AM Monday, February 15, 2010
I'm surprised that the article doesn't mention the environmental impact in relation to the noise of the engines soaring by our cottages at break-neck speeds coupled with horrific sound. I would love to see it move to another community along the river - preferably far enough away that it doesn't pass by our tranuil Point Comfort!!

Elayne LePage
Comment by: Elayne LePage ( )
Left at: 10:46 AM Monday, February 15, 2010
I have a cottage on The River and on Poker Run weekends my house is always full of company who come for the fun. These friends and family spend lots of money in the area and would not come for the Blues. They come to see and hear the "HOT" boats! My neighbors also have company who come for the Poker Runs on both sides of the border.
Chris Lyttle
Comment by: Chris Lyttle ( )
Left at: 9:00 PM Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I'm a sailor with a cottage west of Gananoque. While I don't enjoy the noise of the Poker Run, I'm willing to grant that the River is be large enough to accommodate sailboats and stink pots. The difficulty I have is not actually with the participants, but with the effect it seems to have on many power boat captains. During and after the Run there is a great increase in the number of cruising power boat captains who seem to think that their boat should be able to fly down narrow channels. So where the actual race boats skim over the waves with a relatively small wake, these clowns are pushing 30 - 40 foot bathtubs through the water and throwing out huge wakes that do cause environmental damage (not to mention the violation of posted speed limits and the inconvenience of other boaters). I would suggest that at a minimum there should be safe boating educational campaigns run in tandem with the Poker Run.