When blessed with good luck, it’s only natural to want to share it with loved ones, family and friends. But when fate is especially generous—whether in a single spectacular win or a lifetime of good fortune—the desire to give back to local communities and society can often be overwhelming. It should come as no surprise, then, that the world of poker is also a world of philanthropy.
Doing Well Leads to Doing Good
In 2006, Jamie Gold’s life was transformed when he won the No-Limit Texas Hold’em World Championship Event at the 37th Annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas. The Los Angeles film producer turned his $10,000 buy-in into a $12 million windfall and headlines worldwide.
Gold’s father, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), lived just long enough to see the accomplishment. Thereafter, the California filmmaker dedicated his new notoriety to fundraising and began campaigning for a variety of causes, including the ALS Division of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Over the following years, Gold has given back far more than he ever won at the tables. He has helped raise over $170 million for charities by arranging celebrity poker tournaments, like Ante Up for Africa at Sundance and the Sunflower Children Charity Poker Night at Cannes Film Festival. He has co-hosted or served as emcee for more than 100 charity events, with beneficiaries ranging from the United Nations to the Montel Williams MS Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
Gold says his goal is to “bring together some of the smartest people, the best scientists, and put them together with the wealthiest people we know and really try to create and effect change in the world.” And the philanthropist is by no means alone in the effort to transform poker success into hope for the future.
Big Names, Big Hearts
During the 2003 World Series of Poker, a group of top players launched a cause they called “The Bad Beat on Cancer.” Using their skills at the table, they agreed to help fund cancer prevention research, education and community outreach across America for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Each of them pledged 1% of their winnings to the Foundation as a tax-deductible donation.
That year, little-known Chris Moneymaker made the pledge and went on to win the Series, donating $25,000 to the Foundation. In the next eight years, players wearing the green 1% patch at major tournaments and home/community leagues around the country raised $3.8 million for the premiere charity of the poker community. Today, Bad Beat’s 1% Team includes Brandon Adams, Andy Bloch, Annie Duke, Phil Hellmuth, Jr., Maria Ho, John Juanda, Marcel Luske, Greg Raymer, Eric Seidel, Paul Wasicka, Dennis Phillips and more.
Meanwhile, other big names in the world have poker have found their own unique ways of doing charitable work. After winning his first World Poker Tour (WPT) title in 2008, Phil Ivey donated $50,000 to Empowered 2 Excel, a Las Vegas based Christian Academy. He has since formed a nonprofit organization, the Budding Ivey Foundation, to give to various charitable causes.
In a similar manner, winner of two WSOP bracelets Barry Shulman set up the Shulman Family Foundation in Las Vegas to support fourteen different community causes. Among them are the After-School All-Stars, AIDS Lifecycle, Free Art for Kids, KMA/Lou Ruvo Brain Institute, Nathan Adelson Hospice, Nevada Ballet Theatre and Nevada Cancer Institute, to name a few.
The Latest & Greatest
In early 2012, the WPT announced the formation of a new charitable arm—The WPT Foundation. Its initial purpose is to support nonprofit programs in the areas of environment, human rights, hunger and poverty. Charitable partners include Conservation International, Enough Project, We Advance and World Central Kitchen.
Seeded with a $100,000 cash donation, the core of the Foundation’s fundraising will be a series of philanthropic poker events called “WPT Playing for a Better World.” The very first event was held in March, a sell-out launch party at the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills that featured the cuisine of world-renowned chef José Andrés at $500 a plate. Other attractions were a $100-a-ticket raffle and a silent auction, plus a round-robin style poker event with actress Maria Bello and L.A. Lakers’ power forward Pau Gasol.
WPT’s marriage of poker and television allows the Foundation to draw on talent from both sides of celebrity. Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson and Eva Longoria are just a few of the stars on the host committee. Professional poker players associated with the WPT Foundation include Daniel Negreanu, Vanessa Selbst, Vanessa Rousso, Barry Greenstein, Liv Boeree, Maria Ho, Freddy Deeb and Liz Lieu, as well as WPT TV personalities Mike Sexton and Tony Dunst.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, with backing from Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, the WSOP is undertaking the biggest philanthropic event ever in the world of poker—The $1,000,000 Buy-In “Big One for One Drop.” Set to debut on July 1, 2012, the made-for-TV, 48-seat tournament will award the largest first-place prize ever and $111,111 from each entry fee will be donated to One Drop Foundation—Laliberté’s cause to fight poverty in the world by giving everyone access to water.