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UNC Officials Cancel Charity Poker Tourney

Event was Expected to Raise Upwards of $25,000


A charity poker tournament that was to be held on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been canceled by administrators after receiving several e-mails from people concerned about the legality of the event.

Hold’em for Hunger 2008 (HEFH) was set to take place April 20 in the campus’ Eddie Smith Field House and was expected to raise $25,000 for the UNC chapter of Nourish International. This would have been the fourth year of the tournament. Last year, 510 players played in the event and helped raise $12,500. Upwards of 1,000 players were expected this year.

Nourish International was founded at UNC Chapel Hill in 2003 and had spread to 10 other campuses. It’s a federally recognized non-profit organization that helps send enterprising students to developing countries to fight poverty and hunger.

The cancellation now has the UNC’s chapter of Nourish International scrambling for around $11,000 that is needed to fund projects scheduled to take place this summer. Projects that would benefit rural members of communities in Mexico and Central and South America are now in jeopardy. The money must be raised by the end of next month in order for the projects to continue.

Graham Boone, the tournament director, Nourish International member, and UNC junior, said administrators expressed regret when they called to cancel the tournament, but had to follow the advice of their own attorneys who determined that the event would have been illegal in North Carolina. Gambling, poker included, is considered a Class 2 misdemeanor by North Carolina.

“The University supports what these kids are doing 100 percent, but, at the same time, we can’t sponsor stuff that our attorneys deem illegal,” said Winston Crisp, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs.

Crisp’s office was forced to act after receiving several e-mails questioning the legality of the event. Once his office receives even one complaint, it is forced to investigate. His office did, and school lawyers determined that the event would not be legal under current laws. Crisp said the school will work with the organization to help raise the money lost by the cancellation.

This University’s decision contradicts advice Nourish International received from an attorney in the fall who opined that the tournament would be legal. The cancellation leaves a hole in the campus chapter’s budget and Boone stuck with 20,000 chips stamped with “HEFH." They cost $3,000, but were going to be used for years to come.

“(University officials) said they love our organization,” Boone said. “But if we don’t raise $11,000 in the next five weeks, these projects aren’t going to happen.”

The tournament, which had more than 70 players already preregistered through an online site, was to cost $25. Every last dollar was to go to Nourish International. Members of UNC’s Nourish International chapter have spent months securing $13,000 in prize donations from sponsors. They included top-prizes of a European vacation valued at $6,000 and a scooter valued at $3,000. Other prizes included a flat-screen TV, a tandem sky-dive package, and MP3 players. Boone said the top 60 players would’ve cashed.

Everyone who played would have walked away with something. The $25 buy-in included a full barbeque meal, T-shirts, and raffles throughout the day.

For the last week, Boone and other members of the campus’ Nourish International have been on the phone with the sponsors, making sure they get the prizes they donated back. Although some of the sponsors have opted to donate the cash-equivalent of the prizes to the organization, thousands more dollars are needed to ensure that summer projects go forward as planned.

“Right now, we’ve decided not to bitch and moan about the tournament cancellation and instead make a concerted effort to raise this money,” Boone said. “We did nothing in bad faith. We hope the confidence of the community is still with Nourish International.”

Former World Series of Poker champion Greg Raymer is on board. He will sign all 40 chip cases filled with the chips bought for this and future HEFH events, and the 500 piece chip sets will be sold. Some of the sets will be available soon on eBay. Nourish International was put in touch with Raymer by one of the sponsors.

Even though event organizers tried to follow the letter of the law when planning this year’s HEFH, the cancellation serves to show just how confusing and arbitrary state gambling laws can be when determining whether or not poker is legal.

This isn’t the first time those in charge have canceled a poker event that was set to raise money for charity. Texas officials canceled an event sponsored by Phil Hellmuth in 2005 (one of several canceled by Texas officials over the years), and even put the kibosh on “poker runs,” wherein motorcyclists raised money in events that consisted of them riding from place to place, picking up cards along the way. The best hand won a portion of the pot, and the rest of the money went to charity.

Some states, like Maine, California, and South Carolina, have passed laws that allow charity poker tournaments to be held. New York and others have similar bills in committee, but most states haven’t taken the time to legally separate poker from games of chance.

But even in states that officially do not permit games of chance, of which poker is included, law enforcement officials mostly ignore the charity poker events and let them take place. That is, until someone complains, and then law enforcement — or, in this case, UNC officials — are forced to get involved. The poker players, and more importantly, the charities that benefit from the events, suffer.



13 years ago

It does not take a genious to figure out that an off campus location would probably fix the problem. I would happily attend along with plenty of other people. So stop crying about spilled milk. Let's play some poker...


13 years ago

It would also help if enough players would take the time to get up from the table, learn who's who in the political world and VOTE !


13 years ago

What about the last three years, where were the lawyers?