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Raising the Pot for Charity

by Rebecca McAdam |  Published: Apr 01, 2010


Helping Hands
It often takes a personal crisis or a terrible catastrophe to make people aware of things going on around them. Cast your mind back only as far as January it is estimated that around 200,000 people did not live to see the 13th day of 2010. As the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti has experienced the harsh reality of nature’s power much too frequently. Take a look at its history and you will find a beautiful but poverty-stricken country at the mercy of earthquakes and hurricanes. The earthquake in January made worldwide news as it is one that killed thousands and left millions in need of emergency medical treatment.

Leading by Example
The efforts witnessed, since this horrific event, to do something to help those who lived to tell the tale, could be described as inspirational and refreshing, but there is always more that can be done, both here and for others in need. This is where poker comes in. The poker world is a global community consisting of online companies, live casinos and poker rooms, players, fans, and the media. This is a community which has grown closer due to the help of social networking sites, forums, and the simple fact that poker is such an interactive game. All in all, it is a powerful entity, which can and should be used for good. There are many people out there who have been fighting a long time for the rest of us to realise this.

Take Mike Sexton. In early 2009, the “ambassador” of poker told me, “I think the next big step the poker world has to make is to do much more in terms of contributing to worthwhile charities, and I think the industry can do that and players and casinos can help. I believe that if they pattern themselves after the PGA Tour, which is probably the largest contributor to charities in the world, at least in the United States anyway, I think everybody will take a step back, even those who are opposed to gambling or opposed to poker and say, “Hey, wait a minute, these people are donating a lot of money to worthwhile causes, to people in need, and so maybe these are pretty good folks.”
Sexton often donates his winnings to charity, and is also one of the founders of Poker Gives, a company set up in order for the poker world to be able to give something back.

Euro Heroes
Closer to home (home being Europe) there are many role models to look up to. At the 2009 World Series of Poker Europe, British pro Paul Zimbler set a news heads-up poker world record while also raising money for the Make-A-Wish foundation. Zimbler played 183 opponents for 20 minutes each for a minimum donation of £10, and after 78 hours, 25 minutes, and 45 seconds of non-stop action, he had raised £35,000.

Two Irish men who have done great things for charity via poker also are Padraig Parkinson and Liam Flood. Parkinson is one of the people behind a foundation called Poker for The Homeless, which organises some of the most well-loved poker events in Ireland. Various poker sites such as Boylepoker, PartyPoker, and Ladbrokespoker have sponsored these tournaments. Since 2006, the foundation has helped to raise €166,092 for Dublin Simon and the Capuchin Centre. Parkinson himself recently won the UK and Ireland Poker Tour Galway, and in doing so made a deal with runner-up Paul Marrow to give €7,000 of their winnings to the Capuchin Centre.
Sexton Zimbler Flood
A quote from the Poker for the Homeless’ Facebook page says, “It’s about putting your hand in your pocket when it may not be full to help out those for whom a poker bad beat story would be a luxury.” This kind of thinking is what could be said to have triggered the beginning of poker as we know it today in Ireland.

Back when poker was simply a game shared between family and friends at home, Liam Flood and Terry Rogers ran charity draw poker tournaments for old folk’s homes, hospices, and various hospitals. It is through this noble action, one of the world’s most celebrated poker events was born, the Irish Open. According to Flood, “Out of these events came the Eccentric Club which started no-limit hold’em in Ireland. And out of that came the Irish Open which started on a Good Friday, and that’s why it’s on at Easter every year. The reason why it was on that particular day was most of the participants at the time were bookies or gamblers and there was no racing on that particular day.”

Taking Responsibility
Many poker sites take corporate and social responsibility very seriously. Look at PokerStars for instance. In the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, it ran a special donation tournament and raised $187,769. The site then added to this, and in total donated $400,000 to the International Federation of the Red Cross. PokerStars also rallied its players after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the western China earthquake in 2008. And it’s not just natural disasters that PokerStars focuses on, the site teamed up with the cast and producer of Ocean Thirteen to help relieve the suffering in the war-torn region of Darfur. It donated $1 million to Not On Our Watch (NOOW) and ran special tournaments with the entire prize pool going to NOOW. On top of this, the site has donated around $300,000 to amfAR (the foundation for AIDS research) from its Caribbean Adventure, and €160,000 for AUFA (Ante Up for Africa) from the Monte Carlo charity event last year.

In regards to Haiti, PokerStars pledged to match any donations made by players, and after just one month, a total of $1,492,780.52 was donated to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The list of sites and companies who joined in this effort is endless. FullTiltPoker is another poker room known for its charitable contributions. It was not going to rest on its laurels when it came to Haiti either. Its “Aid for Haiti” campaign led to more than 22,700 of its players donating more than $290,000 in just seven days. It too matched the efforts of its users bringing the total (at time of writing) to over $580,000.
Haiti Crisis
All In on the Act
Social networking sites have been keen to get in on the charitable action also. Zynga, the maker of social-networking games for sites such as Facebook raised more than $1.5 million in five days by selling limited edition virtual goods to players of FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and Zynga Poker, with the money going to the UN World Food Programme as part of the Haiti earthquake relief., a social network for poker players, has joined forces with FullTilt and Poker Gives to run a $5 + $5 buy-in no-limit hold’em double stack charity event. This tournament will take place at on Sunday, April 4 at 2 p.m. (EST) and will feature bonus prizes and big name players. Andy Bloch will host the event, which sees $5 of the buy-in go to the prize pool, and the other $5 to Poker Gives’ chosen charities. FullTilt will not be taking any fees from the event.

It’s a tough time worldwide with economic doom and gloom at every turn, but there is always someone somewhere who is worse off. Using Haiti as an example, it is clear to see just what the poker world can do when we all pull together. And like Sexton said, besides being able to give something back, this sort of action helps to show the outside world what the poker industry is made of. If ever there was a way to kill off the ghosts of poker’s past and turn any surviving stereotypes on their head, it would be to show the world that a player’s heart can be a lot deeper than his/her pocket. Spade Suit