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Poker Players Rally For Worthy Causes at the WSOP

Pros Give Big

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It's easy to get caught up in the happenings of the 37th annual World Series of Poker, especially if you are involved in the madness. Whether you are playing, reporting or working events, life makes you feel like you are in a bubble and it is hard to see the outside. In a sense, for almost two months poker becomes all-encompassing and seems to take precedence over important events happening outside the game. With all the distractions of the World Series of Poker, players and fans may find it easy to ignore serious issues like defeating cancer or raising money for the Boys and Girls Club of Las Vegas. But despite all the fuss over the WSOP and the main event's first-place payout of $12 million, several players and groups have looked outside of their own personal profits and tried to make a difference in the lives of others.

There are several wonderful examples of the charitable nature of the poker community. The first example occurred at the beginning of the Series when PartyPoker.net spokesperson and World Poker Tour commentator Mike Sexton took home the $1 million Tournament of Champions first-place cash. One of the creators of the Tournament, and participating through one of Party's exemptions, Sexton vowed to donate half of his money to charities if he won. And like the honorable gentleman he is, Sexton kept his word.

After winning the event, Sexton donated $500,000, with $100,000 going to five charities: Special Olympics; The Buoniconti Fund, which raises money to cure paralysis; Paralyzed Veterans of America; Wounded Warrior Project, which helps families of those wounded or killed in battle; and Children Incorporated, which supplies underprivileged children around the world with food and supplies.

Another charitable venture came from the 2006 World Poker Tour Player of the Year, Gavin Smith. As reported previously in Card Player, Smith has been raising money for Peyton Novoa, a young girl who lost her mother to a rare form of ovarian cancer. Smith and his friends have been campaigning tirelessly throughout the WSOP, gathering prizes, such as two tickets to the Full Tilt Gala Ball and a two-hour poker lesson with Robert Mizrachi, and auctioning them off on the ForPeyton.com web site to raise money for Peyton.

Then there is the story of Ron Fanelli. Although many people may not have heard of Fanelli before, he holds the record for the longest stretch of continuous poker play. Fanelli not only crushed the previous record by two hours, he also raised money while doing it. Playing for 74 hours and 4 minutes, Fanelli took on a host of different players including pros like Daniel Negreanu, Joe Hachem, and Greg Raymer, and managed to win over half of his almost 400 matches. Thanks to the Gutshot Club's $25 per win donation, the Las Vegas Children's Hospital also cashed as well.

There are also plenty of other poker charity warriors gracing the felt at this year's WSOP, such as Barry Greenstein and Victor Ramdin. Greenstein, the "Robin Hood of Poker," continues to donate his tournament winnings to charities like Children Incorporated. Ramdin, after a triumphant victory at Foxwoods, donated $100,000 to Guyana's First Lady, Varshnie Jagdeo, who in turn used the money to take 13 children and four adults from Guyana to India for heart treatment

When it comes to charitable activities, it is impossible to forget the group of players at Full Tilt Poker. Consisting of many of the game's premiere players, the collective also leads the way in charitable efforts. Whether Phil Gordon and 2006 bracelet-winner Rafe Furst are putting a bad beat on cancer, or Clonie Gowen is challenging Paris Hilton to a $100,000 charity heads-up match on Fox Network's Best Damn Sports Show Period, the Full Tilt crew always tries to look beyond the game and give something back to the community. This year also marked the second WSOP at which Full Tilt raised money for the Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club. Last year, Full Tilt raised over $100,000 for the organization with its Gala Ball.

For many people in poker, life is focused primarily on surviving the ups and downs at the tables. For these pros and organizations, poker transcends beyond the tables and personal gains, to a higher level of social consciousness. In other words, they see that there is more to life than just playing poker and that if they do not try to make a difference in the lives of others then who will?

Sexton had the right idea when he suggested that the poker community needs to continue to be heavily involved with charities. His concept, that major poker tournaments should donate a percentage of their money to charities, really hits the mark and he, along with other players, continues to set a wonderful example for others to follow.