PokerStars is celebrating its 20th Anniversary: 20 years as the best known and most trusted online poker site. To join the celebrations here at PokerStars Blog, we are looking back year-by-year on those two decades, noting the landmarks and remembering all the remarkable moments, fitting them into the wider landscape of poker’s sensational development.
Today we look back to 2016, the year that PokerStars ambassadors (and the PokerStars Blog) went to Ghana with Right To Play. PokerStar’s partnership with Right To Play runs back to 2014, and continues to this day. The charity develops games to teach and empower children around the world.
As an industry leader in iGaming, PokerStars has long been involved in raising money for charitable causes, both pioneering its own campaigns and matching the generosity of player’s donations. Here we take a look at the ways in which the poker community has given back in times of need.
Charity tournaments provide disaster relief
In late 2004, a devastating Tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean, impacting countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Somalia. In an immediate relief effort, PokerStars held a donation tournament with voluntary buy-ins of up to $100. Players donated a total of $187,769, which was matched by PokerStars and rounded-up. A total of $400,000 was sent to the International Federation of Red Cross.
This was the first major appeal made by PokerStars, and showed how well the concept of charity tournaments could work for fundraising.
The following year, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf of Mexico, decimating the Mississippi Coast. This time, PokerStars held charity tournaments at several buy-in levels ($5, $20, $50, $100), once again matching the total. Over $113,000 was sent to the American Red Cross, along with a personal donation from Barry Greenstein, $10,665 in WSOP winnings, which PokerStars also matched.
In May 2008, the Great Sichuan earthquake hit Western China, measuring a magnitude of 8.0. To provide relief, live charity poker tournaments were held at the recently inaugurated Macau Poker Room at the first Macau Poker Cup. With entry fees from live tourneys, as well as donations from online appeals, PokerStars and players sent a total of over HK$2.2 million ($121k) to the Red Cross.
High profile events raise millions
As well as providing immediate relief in disaster situations, PokerStars has often partnered with charities and fundraising events in order to raise capital for worthy causes.
In 2007, PokerStars teamed up with the producer and cast of Hollywood thriller Ocean’s Thirteen to raise money for Not On Our Watch (now merged with The Sentry), a charity dedicated to providing relief in war-torn Darfur, Sudan. PokerStars donated $1 million to the cause, and held three charity poker tournaments which raised an additional $40k.
PokerStars was also one of the sponsors of Life Ball, one of the most prestigious charity events in Europe, and one that has raised millions of dollars in the fight against AIDS. In 2008, the event was held at the opulent Vienna City Hall, where PokerStars hosted a poker room and charity tournament. 190,000 players entered satellite qualifiers online, raising $150,000 for charity.
One of the most effective ways to raise the profile of a charity campaign is to work with celebrities who can further the cause, either directly or simply by taking part.
The EPT Monte Carlo Grand Final 2009 held a charity tournament full of celebrity faces, generating funds for Ante Up Africa, again as part of a relief effort in Darfur, Sudan. Celebrities like Nelly, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Chaban faced Team Pro players Negreanu and Dario Minieri, and all players gave their winnings to charity, including first place finisher Isabelle Mercier.
During the 2010 PCA, PokerStars held a charity tournament to support the AIDS research charity amfAR. Faces as famous as Nelly, Kelly Rowland, Slash, and Boris Becker joined Team Pro members Daniel Negreanu, Greg Raymer and Alex Gomes in raising over $97k.
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Matching player donations from direct appeals
Running charity tournaments is an effective strategy for fundraising, but players have also shown immense generosity when it comes to direct donations from their online accounts. This is where the poker community as a whole can really take part and give back; instantly and in proportion with what they can afford.
In January 2010, the Haiti earthquake, measuring a magnitude of 8.3, tore through the Caribbean nation. The disaster occurred during the PCA, and so poker players were all too aware of the impact and of how they could do their bit to raise funds. By mid-February, PokerStars and players had donated nearly $1.5 million.
The following year, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Players donated $244,391, which PokerStars matched to make $488,782 contributed by the poker community.
More recently, in 2018, PokerStars’ Helping Hands teamed up with Care International following the Sulawesi earthquake in Indonesia. Along with cash, players could donate 2,000 star coins to give $20 to the appeal. As always, donations were matched.
Individual efforts make up community spirit
Some of the most inspiring tales of the poker community giving back come from the efforts of certain individuals who decide to use their time, money, or status for charitable causes.
In April 2007, Gavin Griffin won the EPT Monte Carlo Grand Final. At the time, his hair was dyed bright pink. Why, you ask? All in support of a breast cancer charity. PokerStars matched the money he raised, making for $27,870 sent to the Avon Foundation.
In one of the most admirable long term commitments, former Team Pro Victor Ramdin first opened his charity Guyana Watch in 1995. The charity provides medical outreach for the Latin American nation, which is Ramdin’s birthplace, and has now sent dozens of children to developed countries for essential surgery. Ramdin himself has long contributed 20 percent of his poker profits to the charity, and following a $1.3 million live win took a group of children for heart surgery.
Let us not forget that charity can be very much hands-on. It’s not all about giving money, but also about being there when the community needs you. In March 2013, the Isle of Man was covered with worst snowfall ever seen on the island, burying livestock under several feet of snow and ice. Around 60 PokerStars staff from the Isle of Man went out into the snow and joined efforts to dig out the animals. True local heroes.
The community continues to give back
The poker economy is fueled by an urge to compete, to get better, and ultimately to win. But the poker community always has been, and always will be about giving back. To this day, PokerStars, ambassadors, friends and players are still involved in charity projects.
In an online version of the charity tourneys that have been a running theme throughout poker appeals, Hank Azaria and Andy Bellin recently ran the CALL for Action campaign. PokerStars put up $10k for each celebrity who took part, making for a total prize pool of $1 million. Half went to Care International, and half to entrant’s charities of choice. David Schwimmer, Neymar Jr., Ed Norton, Casey Affleck (and Jack Stanton of the PokerStars Blog) were among the entrants. Breaking Bad and The Wire star David Costabile came first and earned $100,000 for his charity.
Over at PokerStars India, an entire online series was held in 2020 to celebrate Daan Utsav. Dubbed Play For A Cause, the campaign ran in association with the United Way of Chennai over the course of a week, with a tourney each day and seven different charities receiving contributions. Half of player’s ₹550 buy-in went directly to the causes.
In one of the company’s latest charity contributions, PokerStars sponsored the Right To Play Sports Quiz event for the fifth year. Held at the International Hotel in London, and featuring fundraisers and live auctions, PokerStars raised $567,775 through their Helping Hands organization. In total, PokerStars has now donated over $2.2 million to Right To Play.
MORE IN THIS SERIES:
2015 – The rise of the global game
2014 – The art of the streak
2013 – Is this the best final table ever?
2012 – A look back at some of poker’s best (and worst) innovations
2011 – Isuldur1 and the nosebleed cash games
2010 – Poker as a TV and streaming spectacle
2009 – The live poker boom hits its highest point
2008 – Where future superstars cut their teeth
2007 – The changing face of the sponsored pro
2006 – How poker prize pools ballooned
2005 – Reporting on poker will never catch on…
2004 – The Year of the EPT
2003 – Chris Moneymaker wins WSOP, sparks ‘poker boom’
2002 – The year of WCOOP
2001 – Electronic poker before PokerStars