Wearing a white button-down shirt and dark jeans, Petter Northug entered Latvia’s biggest casino Thursday afternoon. Playing poker for money is illegal in Norway, which is why the Norwegian National Poker Championships are held abroad every year.
Inside the casino, Northug and the rest of the Mosvik, Norway, poker team is competing for the kitty containing about 2 million Norwegian Kroner (just under $400,000) and the national champion title.
At the casino, Northug refused to answer questions about the poker tournament or his reaction to Norwegian national team head coach Morten Aa Djupvik’s retirement.
Northug’s poker team consists of his buddies Espen Tangstad, Vidar Berge and Stig Rune Kveen. The latter won the 2008 Norwegian national poker championships, which were held in Nottingham, England.
“The national championship title always goes to a Northug buddy,” Petter Northug said to the poker magazine Norwegian Aces earlier this spring.
However, that one of Norway’s most prominent athletes are competing in an event that would have been illegal on Norwegian soil, does stir up some reactions.
“I think it’s unfortunate that elite athletes are endorsing a money game that is illegal in Norway. Northug is a role model for many young people,” said Atle Hamar, who is the director or the Norwegian Lottery Commission.
Hamar argues that Northug is being used by the international poker companies.
“They use him to market and advertise poker. Northug should have considered the consequences more carefully before he accepted this opportunity,” Hamar said to Norwegian news agency NTB.
Among the officials in the Norwegian Ski Association, the criticism is less harsh. “Our relationship to Northug is as a ski racer. What he does on his spare time, is his own business,” Sverre K. Seeberg, the president of the Norwegian Ski Association, said to NTB.
Northug competes in the Texas Hold’em poker game. Each player is dealt two cards along with five open cards on the table, which are combined for a best possible hand. Each player has put in 6,500 kroner to play, roughly $1,100. The final is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
From Langrenn.com, April 14, 2011. Translation by Inge Scheve
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.