Red Devils keep quiet on Poker Run route

The Red Devils Motorcycle Club is keeping the route for its controversial Poker Run secret.

It will hold its annual Poker Run next month and expects a good turnout for the event.

Nelson police say they are "acutely aware" that the Poker Run is planned for March 9 and are promising to police it hard.

The event is associated with the Red Devils whose members started it in 2002, seven years before the club was formed in 2009.

The club's lawyer, Steve Rollo, said the run was a fundraiser event and was open to the public with riders on any make or model of motorcycle, or hot rod welcome. Patched gang members from out of town are expected on the ride.

"It's attended by patched members and Joe Public," Mr Rollo said.

A club spokesman said the route of the run would not be publicised this year.

"Unfortunately we have to keep the route and the stops secret or the police visit the licensees and pressure them to refuse us entry," he said.

He said they had previously told police the route thinking police would help them out with road safety as they had in other parts of the country.

"But instead they used that information to bully licensees into refusing us entry."

Police last year were forced to drop charges against 21 people caught in an undercover police operation targeting the Red Devils. Justice Simon France ruled the police abused the court process through deceiving a court over the arrest of an undercover police officer.

The charges the group faced related to drugs and firearms. Ten people were charged with taking part in an organised criminal group.

Justice France's decision has been appealed by the Crown and the appeal has been set down for the middle of the year.

Police have traditionally had a strong presence following the poker run. For the past two years numbers of riders have been low, down from a high of 300 participants.

The club spokesman expected numbers would be up on this year's ride.

"We would like to see over 100 this year which will be a good base to build it up again to what it was."

He said the event was good for businesses in Nelson as it brought in people from out of town and people spent money at the stops.

A Poker Run is a motorcycling event where participants visit pubs and cafes and collect a playing card at each stop. Prizes are awarded for the best poker hand at the end of the day.

They are held internationally with motorcycle gangs claiming they are fundraising events.

It costs $20 to take part and as in past years Medi Max, a first aid provider, will receive a donation from money raised in the ride.

St John refused further donations from the ride a few years ago.

The spokesman said organisers were proud of the safety record on the ride and said it would be easier if police worked with them and helped with traffic control.

"But with or without them we'll be doing our best to run another safe and enjoyable event."

Mr Rollo said it was not the police's role to interfere with a lawful activity regardless of who had organised it and police needed to "tread carefully".

"They've been successfully sued in the past for abusing their powers in a similar fashion."

Nelson Bays Area Commander Inspector Steve Greally said it did not matter what the perceived motive was for staging the event was.

"When we have got motorcycle gangs coming into our patch we will be all across it, simple as that. We will not be assisting them with traffic control, but we will be amongst it and covering it as we would always do right across the country."

Mr Greally said police were always careful when dealing with people. However everyone on the road had to comply with road rules and his officers would deal with whoever they needed to on the roads.

"Motorcycle gangs, ethnic gangs, any sort of criminal gangs in New Zealand are not about charity. That's a guarantee, they are about criminal behaviour which is why they get and deserve the attention from police that they do get."

The Nelson Mail