All-In With The 1,000 Island Poker Run?

1000 Islands Poker Run, Kingston, OntarioIn the long list of regular suspects that are a part of Kingston’s Summer event schedule, no other recurring spectacle draws the crowds and critics like the 1,000 Islands Poker Run. Over the past few years, anti-poker runners have called for Council to put the kibosh on these gas guzzling games, or otherwise impose strict environmental sanctions in the form of a mandatory carbon tax for all participants.  While the vocal opposition has increased their efforts over the past few years, no real deterrents have been employed.  More importantly, the quiet majority has continued to vote with their feet and flock to Kingston’s waterfront so that they may catch a glimpse of these hulking marine machines. In the end, the resilience of the 1,000 Island Poker Run hints that organizers are far from giving up on the Limestone City, and vice versa, the economic spinoff is something the downtown Kingston is not ready to let go.

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The question about whether to allow or condemn the 1,000 Islands Poker Run is one of this city’s great divisive debates, on par with the likes of: where we should build the LVEC, should we demolish the Memorial Centre, do we want to make a bid for a local casino, and so on.  It’s an undeniable cash cow, with modest estimates from the Kingston Tourism suggesting that the event attracts 14,400 visitors and somewhere between $750,000 to $1 million into the city each year.  On the flip side of that equation are groups such as the Kingston Environmental Advisory Forum who suggest that the CO2 produced by the event is between 100 and 200 tonnes; roughly the same as a round-trip in a Boeing 757 from Toronto to Vancouver.

Are calls for a carbon tax the sort of tough love we need, or would this sort of action push this event, and possibly others, elsewhere with zero economic benefits for Kingston?  How can we strike a proper balance between doing solid business and what is right for the environment? Is harmony even remotely attainable since the source of income and pollution is the same?

Thanks to Edith Maracle for today’s photo, which came with the caption: all you need for one of these boats is a lot of money and ownership of a gas station.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

15 thoughts on “All-In With The 1,000 Island Poker Run?

  • The economic benefits of this event are questionable at best.

    The report presented by KEDCO was far from conclusive, and I’d urge anyone interested to read the report for themselves. . .

    Because KEDCO was asked to do the report after the fact as well, the report author repeatedly notes things like “… conclusions based on 91 results is ‘statistically insignificant’ and does not adequately reflect the overall economic impact of the event. In this case, the economic impact report is inaccurate and would not be considered as part of a postanalysis report.”

    The fact that the data were also supplied by Downtown Kingston and event organizers brings any results into question. Instead of focusing on this flawed report, which itself proclaims that “…it has a low confidence rating,” let’s look at a few facts.

    1) Shrinkage: In 2008, this event was being celebrated as “The Largest Poker Run in the World.” Organizers repeatedly stated that there were over 150 participants. In 2009, there were 65 participants. In the space of one year, the event shrunk to 43.33% of its previous year’s size. In 2011 there were 60 boats. Does that sound like an economically healthy event? With the rising cost of fuel, increasing concern about the environment, and an unstable economy, it is highly unlikely that this event will rebound.

    2) Beyond hospitality: This event benefits the hospitality industry down by the water by bringing in affluent guests. Does it do so, however, at the expense of the rest of the city? As we try to present ourselves to
    potential investors and industry as “the most sustainable city in Canada,” does it make sense to be endorsing and supporting this event via a road closure and park usage?

    KEDCO itself used the Poker Run a few years back as a marketing tool for visiting industrialists, but has since taken a large step away from it. In a 2009 supplement they published in the Globe & Mail to attract progressive investors to Kingston, the Poker Run was noticeably absent in their list of summer attractions.

    3) Replaceable event: It is interesting to note that Downtown Kingston’s survey did not ask respondents if there were any other events they might enjoy seeing. Given that the Poker Run is being held on a peak summer weekend, there is no doubt that a sustainable event could replace it, and likely attract more people.

    4) Transient monocultural markets: It is unfortunate that Downtown Kingston has not considered exploring an alternative event that might bring more residents to the downtown core. By wooing a transient market,
    they are ignoring the much more stable home base. To focus on events that attract people to bars and hotel rooms for a weekend ignores the needs of the many other types of businesses as well. The empty
    storefronts on Princess Street are mute testimony to the need for longer-term and broader-based downtown development strategies.

  • Shark Worlds are coming to Kingston, so far there are 52 sail boats registered . Perhaps to counter the stink boats we can support events like this and CORK and get more press for having the best sailing environment in North America.

  • People love the Poker Run period. They don't need to told by some jealous socialists what they can see or do.
    The men and women who are successful in their jobs and lives, have a right to reward themselves with a big boat. It 's a mark of success and should be rewarded. These hard working men and women are role models for kids in the rewards of success, which beats the dregs and losers of welfare. IT gives the children hope of getting off welfare through hard work and perseverence. In some case it may make them realize that there are alternative fathers who are working successful, rather than their welfare multiple dad's, who they don't know and their criminal ways. Success needs to be rewarded and welfare failures, punished. Let's reduce Kingston's social assistance living .

    • What a brilliant parody! I loved it. But just in case you're actually serious– if your big boat didn't affect others, I wouldn't have a problem. But it does– the amount of fuel used, the pollution, CO2 emissions, and noise are all terrible. Plus, the poker run sets a really bad example for kids– what a great lesson for them. There's also the disturbing association of sex with powerboats. Yesterday there were four women at the Aqua Mania trailer, showing considerable cleavage, signing posters and posting for pictures with males of all ages. Such a nice family-friendly event. But you don't care, I'm just a jealous socialist.

      • Sorry Terry but I meant to give you a thumbs up but hit the wrong button in haste … taking away the thumbs up you did have… Could not agree more though… sexism among this group runs rampant …. I saw the kids lining up with their clueless dads to get autographs of the four scantily clad bimbos associated with one of the sponsors – pathetic. Truth be told I couldn't really give a RA about the Poker Run if it weren't for the pollution and sexism… it is, though, a wonderfully grotesque spectacle …that at least makes for some good photographs.. Other good thing is that it is of relatively short duration.. Is Chris for real???????????

        • previous incarnations of the Poker Run have seen boats with "Free Porn" on the side. It was weird seeing women take pictures of their kids or partners with the powerboat women. As Martha discusses, there are lots of reasons why we shouldn't have the Poker Run. It just doesn't fit with an image of a sustainable, cultured, and vibrant city. And Chris does seem like a send-up …

          • Agreed. The Poker Run does not fit with our city’s goal to become sustainable. Let’s give our kids some real role models by doing what is right instead of what is easy. Turning this event away, and attracting/creating another to keep the money flowing is not out of reach. Surely there have got to be other ways we can excite, entertain and attract dollars that are not inherently exclusive and otherwise laying waste to our beautiful city.

          • there are most definitely better events we could do. We know that Buskers brings in lots of people, and the Promenades are also very successful. So I'm sure we could do something more sustainable instead of the Poker Run. SPLASH have come up with some great ideas, e.g. "Wet & Wild", where non-motorized sports (windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing, parasailing, etc) would be demonstrated on the waterfront, and then people can them out for free. There could also be races and other contests. Another one is "Cultural & Cool", where local artists are featured, with live music in Confederation Basin, a concert in Market Square, storytelling, live theatre, etc. These are just two examples, and there are lots more of course that build on the great things that Kingston has to offer.

          • Its easy to say "someone find something else", but no so easy to do. We've already had fan fayre for decades, though it got moved out of confederation park. That doesn't draw hotel stays. We have a huge sailing event, that no one other then the participants are interested in. No one is coming from out of town to try a kayak.. There is live music in confederation park all the time, often with *dozens* listening to it. An additional concert is fine, who is going to pay for it? To attract from out of town, let alone generate hotel stays, it has to be a significant name(s) that would cost a lot of money

            The difference with the poker run and most things that would be any attraction is they don't have to be paid to come. It gets promoted on their website alongside Miami and Tampa, and covered by press read by very affluent people. You want to compare that with have "storytelling"?! Belleville just had their first poker run, only positive comments in the press. Other places would love for kingston to run it out of own..

          • We don't need to find something else. The first post noted the lack of any conclusive evidence of economic benefits from the event, and this coupled with its decline over several years and the environmental costs, mean that it isn't actually doing Kingston any particular good. It certainly isn't true of other controversial issues (e.g. the casino, where it's a case of proven economic benefits versus proven social costs), but the Poker Run is is a case where simply not hosting it would seem to be of more overall benefit.

          • Why do you suppose the local sponsors are the 4 hotels?

            The first post, by the lead anti poker run complainer, claims no economic benefit. Kedco and the BIA disagree. As would Gan who lost it, and Belleville who now has one too. it would seems kind of obvious that the participants alone (one mentioned in the paper being a party of 8) all staying here, eating here, spending here, for the weekend are a benefit. Its a simple observation there are more milling around then there would be if nothing was happening

            Surely the hotels who choose to sponsor it would know if it benefits them? Being its not costing the public a dime to have it, what sense does it make to tell those that choose to contribute to it that there isn't a benefit from it?!

          • Martha did not claim that there was no economic benefit from the Poker Run. She said, based on the KEDCO report, that "The economic benefits of this event are questionable at best." She's right, there's been no rigorous study looking at the economic benefits of the Poker Run. It's very difficult to know how many people come just to see the Poker Run, as opposed to the many tourists who are here in August anyway. After all, the Poker Run itself is a minute wonder. I'm sure there are *some* economic benefits from the Poker Run, but some of us are saying that these (unknown) benefits are not worth the horrendous costs, which have been discussed above.

          • Working out cost-benefit is a little more complicated than what seems 'kind of obvious' (otherwise we would all be economists). As there has been no decent study yet, you are simply making assumptions, for example, that the people who come for the Poker Run outnumber (and out-spend) the people who don't come because they are put off by the Poker Run, which I don't think you can show at all. You also ignore the issue of decline or are you claiming that those figures (which we do have) are not true?

  • I'm not a resident of Kingston but do spend a lot of time on the river between Kingston and Brockville as a charter boat captain. I will leave the cost-benefit analysis to the economists but I find some of the suggestions interesting. If you want to impose a carbon tax on these boats for 1 day a year, are you going to do the same for the thousands of boats out there every weekend in the summer? They are spewing out more CO than the poker run boats (mine included!). For the most part the participants in the poker run are very skilled and are very aware of safety. I can't say the same for the average moron boater that likely doesn't even have a license. Every weekend I see these goofs putting their lives and others at risk because they haven't a clue how to run a boat. So the issue isn't safety. The noise issue? I don't think so….this is for a few hours a year and there are boats out there with no noise suppression every day and I don't see the complaints about them. The Poker Run is a commercial venture. If it's successful it will survive and if it isn't, it won't. We all see governments squandering money over dubious projects every month so if the owners of the Poker Run can make this viable and it has some benefit to Kingston (read into that putting money in the coffers of the city so your taxes are a bit less) then I say it's likely a good thing. What really is the complaint???

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