On May 25, Lithuanian businessman and poker pro Tony G won a seat to European Parliament and helped the national liberal party to move from a modest 7.17 percent in 2009, to a more significant 16.55 percent.
"Unlike most politicians, I speak a language people understand," Tony G said when asked to comment on the impressive success that made him Lithuania's second most voted candidate at the European elections.
"We need to become efficient, to make the right investments, and to understand that we are in open competitions with the US. If we want to succeed, we need to outsmart America," the founder of PokerNews and TonyBet said, announcing that his new adventure in politics will go hand in hand with a break from poker. "I just think that would not be an appropriate thing to do now."
Strong believer of a right-wing approach to politics and about the importance for Europe to invest in its future, Tony G joined PokerNews' Giovanni Angioni for an exclusive talk about the future of the European Union and his expectations for the years to come.
First of all, congratulations for your impressive result at the European elections. Did you expect to become Lithuania's second most voted candidate to the European Parliament?
Tony G: Well, I can tell you that I have worked very hard to achieve this, probably even harder than any other candidate.
During the last six months, I have made over 42,000 kilometers by car and met over 60,000 people. The campaign was vigorous, and I was definitely expecting to win.
We know that partypoker's Warren Lush came to Vilnius to spend the election day with you. Why is that?
Warren is a good friend of mine, and he came to stay close to me. He wasn’t representing anyone or any company.
Keep in mind that Warren has been in politics before, working for William Hague in the U.K, and he has also been involved in some elections there in England. He has been very close to me, and he helped me during my campaign.
Back to your remarkable result; what do you think people have seen in you? What’s so special about you that would get you so many preferences?
I think it's mostly because I am involved in charity in Lithuania and I have been one of the biggest charity donors for over the last 10 years. Then, I am sure it is also because I have created hundreds of jobs in the country with all my different companies.
You know, politicians usually talk a lot about theory. They like to be some sort of bureaucrats who try to divide and distribute money. What they usually miss is to talk about "creating things." If you compare me to them, I speak a different language. I speak a language that people understand.
In addition to this, I have facts on my side. I don’t only talk about doing things — I have actually done things already.
In general, I believe that in politics we need people who are closer to the business world and have a better understanding of reality, not just politicians who are very good at promises.
I would like to agree with you, if it wasn't for a small issue — I am Italian and I have heard almost the very same things years ago from Silvio Berlusconi. You know, in the end he didn’t turn out to be a very good choice for the country.
That's true, but Berlusconi is a whole different story. He's very rich and really involved in the media sector, while I am not involved in any of the Lithuanian media. Also, I am not at that level, I am a way more down to Earth than he is.
What are you going to bring to the European Parliament?
I am planning to be in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee, and my goal is to bring reality and effectiveness to the European institutions.
I want to go there and represent people, not governments. We need politicians that are able to work for the people and that can create value for Europe.
At the end of the day, we have to realize that we are in an open competition against Asia and America. We have to learn how to be better and smarter than America.
And, I know I repeat myself here, but I believe we need to be more efficient. Think about the fact we have two different parliaments, one in Brussels and one in Strasbourg. This is just crazy, a real insanity.
The inefficiency that the European Parliament represents today is a serious problem for the whole Europe.
Do you already know which group will you be part of at the European Parliament?
Yes, I will be a part of the liberal-democrats group, which is going to be the third largest one in the EU parliament. Lithuania will have one of the biggest fractions in that group, and that means that we will have a big role there.
Soon you will be asked to vote for the new president of the European Commission, which is by far the most powerful political body of the Union. Germany's Angela Merkel seems to support International Monetary Fund's president France's Christine Lagarde. What’s your opinion about that?
I don’t know. I think what we need is "normal people," people who have made real mistakes in life and have created value in business.
We need less bureaucracy and more efficiency. We need more business people, more people who are successful in life, and not just in politics. And I also think we need more rotation in politics as well.
You know, Europe has to reposition itself. We all know the Union is inefficient at the moment, so we need to reposition in order to become efficient and strong. We need to understand that we are competing with America, and that we need to be better than America.
During the past few years, Europe's recovery process looked to me a lot like a poker game. We have super tight players such as Germany and the Nordic countries playing against extremely loose players such as Italy, Spain and Greece. The first group believes that playing tight is the key to climb to the chip lead, while the latter believes that to throwing some money around with arguable bets is the best road to success. Who is right?
I think Europe needs to be tight-aggressive, this is the best way to make things work. If you are tight, you don't waste your money on things that are not going to bring anything in return.
I believe that right now Europe should be investing as much as possible in things that can give a return, and not in pensions, social security or welfare. We need to build new things and find ourselves a new position in the global market. We need to get better at education and understand that IT and technology are the future.
We need to invest and to spend our money, and that what I call being tight-aggressive. To be loose in terms of paying big pensions is simply the worst way to play.
I take that you are not really much in favor of the socialist polices many countries have adopted around Europe, am I right?
The future, as I see it, is of multi-billion dollar companies like Facebook, and we don’t have anything like it in Europe.
Europe needs to build these kind companies, as we are not going to make money with big factories anymore. We can't compete against China in manufacturing; we are just not going to make it anymore.
Also, we have to stop most of the socialist policies we have. That's just how I see things — I always avoid left-wing policies. You know, my saying is: "better dead than red."
Soon you will be sitting in Brussels with politicians from all over Europe to share your thoughts about the continent's future. You will be doing everything together except for one thing: playing online poker. How absurd is that we still don’t have a common online European poker market yet?
It is insane. French people can play against Italians on French rooms, but at the same time they can’t play on Italian sites because of the different legislations. It's obviously wrong. But it's not only about online poker: there are very many different contradictions that hurt people and cost revenues to the whole Union at the very same time.
As I have a great interest in gaming, I have decided that I will not get involved in any of the committees working on this field. Yet, I will still try to talk to people about it.
I believe I can be an asset for Europe to explain how things work. I am sure that a lot of people will not care about it, but I am also sure that one or two will listen. And that's how we will make start making progresses.
During another interview in December, you told me: "I really think you always have to keep challenging yourself and aim to reach for those things that people say are impossible" — what's next then?
The next impossible thing is to be part of an efficient and competitive Europe. I want people to have de desire to come and live in Europe and not just to move away from here.
With your election, you have joined what is considered to be the most "Eurosceptic" parliament the Union has had since its foundation, especially after the success of movements as Britain’s UKIP, France’s Front National and Italy’s 5Stelle. How do you feel about that?
Luckily these forces are not going be the majority in the parliament. In future, should these people get the majority, I believe they could close Europe down. Even is this would be a very inefficient move.
The bigger the economies are and the more closely they work together, the more they can compete against other and help people to prosper and have opportunities. If countries will close again and block the free movement of good and services, they will end up hurting their people.
I know it is quite popular now to blame Europe for everything, but the truth is that Europe needs a lot of reforms to make sure that countries can work together. If we separate countries and we segregate labor markets again, then we simply go backwards.
Fortunately, these "negative" parties are going to be completely isolated. They have nothing left apart from talking and they are not going to be involved in any meaningful voting.
We all have to keep in mind that a united and prosperous Europe is our common goal. This is what everyone really wants in Europe.
I believe that the coming five years will be a very important time for the European Union. If we can work well and take the right decisions to become more efficient, those negative parties will die.
If we don't, if we remain inefficient and we keep raising taxes as they still do in places like Italy and France, people will leave Europe for other countries that offer better opportunities.
You said that you will not get involved in gambling-related legislative there in Brussels. So, I wonder: will you still be involved in the poker industry as a member of the European parliament?
I am definitely going to take a break from poker. I will still visit casinos and I will still keep an eye on what happens, but I am definitely not going to play in any tournaments. I don’t think that would be appropriate in my position.
I may host an event in Brussels every now and again, though, as I want to show people that poker is OK. After all, if Oxford University now allows students to play poker for real money, this must mean that poker is a good game, right?