HOPE IN THE CARDS: Poker Community Chips in on Several Charity Fronts During Pandemic

Sean Chaffin May 15, 2020
A look at online poker charitable efforts during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Coronavirus pandemic may have shut down live poker, but the giving spirit among poker players is alive and well. The closure of casinos around the world has left dealers and gaming personnel out of work.

Many dealers are freelancers who travel from event to event. Simply put: no dealing means no money. That goes for poker tournament personnel as well.

Many have been furloughed or laid off – from major series like the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour to smaller series and even tournament staff and media.

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But poker can be about much more than hoodies, sunglasses, and whether to raise or fold. A sense of community, charity, and caring for others has been exemplified in recent weeks.

That has shown not only in online fundraising endeavors but also individual efforts as well. USPoker takes a look at some poker initiatives making a difference.

New Jersey poker player offers dollars for dealers

Making mortgage payments, paying utilities, and raising children – not working can be a struggle for anyone out of work. The Coronavirus has been even more daunting than a normal unemployment situation. 

For Brady Osterman, the shutdown of Atlantic City casinos was personal. The 29-year-old poker pro from Brigantine, NJ, plays online poker in New Jersey but also plays live as well.

Osterman shifted his efforts even more online but also to some poker philanthropy. For the last two months he’s been dishing out $500 payments to freelance poker employees in need. Borgata Poker ambassador Katie Stone started a Discord channel to help find dealers in need. Others have also contributed to the cause.

 

“It’s quite gratifying to feel that I’ve had some positive impact on the lives of others in the industry and their families,” Osterman says. “I hope to do my part to keep the poker industry strong even despite this trying time. I would encourage others to do the same.

“Anything helps really, no matter how big or small there is always a chance to impact others positively in our own way.”

The fundraising even included using a staking arrangement. Osterman recently had a small piece of Stone in a WSOP.com event where she took fourth for about $15,000. After Stone produced a nice score, half of his winnings went toward the charity effort. That meant another $500 to two more dealers.

“I’ve been blessed with an occupation [online poker] that was unaffected, possibly even made more lucrative, by the pandemic and I know it’s been anything but that for others,” Osterman says.

“I get a feeling of satisfaction from giving to those in my community that haven’t been as fortunate as I have during this time.”

Partypoker Grand Prix scores even more for dealers

Others in the poker community also realize the struggle that many dealers face. Partypoker jumped in to help by running the Grand Prix 4 Dealers online tournament comfortably on May 3.

The fundraising event benefited freelance poker dealers who lost work when partypoker LIVE events were canceled. The $55 event featured a $250,000 guarantee, but poker players stepped up to bring that to $285,142.

The registration fees from the event will go directly to dealers in need – a total of $34,400. England’s Vinnie Mohan came out on top for $38,571, but plenty of dealers also won some much-needed funds.

 

Doubling up with online poker fundraising efforts

GGPoker has added its online poker muscle to help the cause. The site has actually hosted two fundraising initiatives over the last few weeks for a total of $277,000.

During the site’s High Roller Week series, 0.5% of the entire series’ prize pools went to Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation’s UHN Emergency COVID-19 Fund. 

This amount was matched by GGPoker’s marketing arm, NSUS Group, for a total of $100,000.

GG also kicked off the WSOP Super Circuit Online Series  with a COVID charity tournament on May 3. The first ring event saw 1,595 entries with $111 from each entry going to the charity.

The total prize pool was $1.8 million smashing the $1 million guarantee. More importantly, $177,000 was raised for the Nevada Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

A company spokesman said: “GGPoker was delighted by the community’s response to this event and humbled by the amount raised.”

Celebrities, online poker, and a million bucks

One of the most noted poker charity events was held on May 12 via PokerStars. The Stars Call for Action featured celebrities like Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston, Hank Azaria, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, and numerous others.

The effort helped raise global pandemic relief funds. Twenty-four players succeeded in taking down a portion of PokerStars’ $1 million donation for their charity of choice.

Half the total donation goes directly to Care International, with the remaining $500,000 to the winners’ charities of choice. Billions star David Costabile won the tournament and is sending a $100,000 donation to World Central Kitchen.

“What an amazing day it was,” Azaria said after the event. “I was genuinely moved to connect with so many people that I like and admire for such a wonderful cause and I remain blown away by how much PokerStars stepped up.

“They put up $10K towards COVID relief for every celebrity that participated and then, even though we didn’t quite reach 100 celebrities, they went ahead and gave a full million dollars anyway – which was really incredible. And I got to play some poker!”

Grants to charities will be administered by the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF). Donations can still be made via PokerStars YouTube channel and EIF website.

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Keep the Lights On crushes initial expectations

Dealers are certainly out of work at the moment, but the same goes for many in the poker media. That includes tournament reporters, photographers, and others who document the game’s major events. No tournaments mean no work.

To help those out of work, Poker Central, Global Poker, and the RunGood Poker Series launched the “Keep The Lights On” initiative.

As part of the campaign, poker personalities Jamie Kerstetter, Jeff Platt, and Brian “TheGoldenBlazer” Frenzel played a series of online events to raise funds. Donations were collected through the Keep the Lines On support site.

As of Friday, almost $34,000 had been raised. That’s well above the original goal of $4,500 and organizers have already helped about 25 people.

“Initially, my expectation was just to put this out there as a beacon of positivity in the poker industry,” RunGood CEO Tana Karn says. “To see the overwhelming support for folks behind the scenes was incredible. The same concept stemmed from our work with Operation Gratitude, giving care kits to US service members.

“Receiving appreciation and care in tough times is priceless. Especially with the unknown always looming. If we could take a weight off someone’s shoulders, even as small as a utility bill, that small gesture could be the difference between hope and despair.”

These are just a few of the events offering a bit of relief during a tough time in the poker industry. Karn’s words echo for for so many – as players remain hopeful live poker returns soon.

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