Matt Stout (pictured) is not only one of the most well-known professional poker players on the live tournament circuit, he is also a man who puts the interests of others before his own.
Stout is the founder of the Charity Series of Poker (CSOP), a non-profit organization created to help charities such as Three Square Food Bank, and Habitat for Humanity – an organization Stout has been involved with since his teens.
How did you first get involved with the Habitat for Humanity project?
“My brother was the President for Habitat for Humanity at Johns Hopkins University, when I was 15; and I went down and visited him and saw some of the things he was doing, and what Habitat was doing for Sandtown – a pretty rough area in Baltimore – and it really touched my heart.
“It wasn’t just how much good they were doing, but how much fun everyone was having. You meet some pretty awesome people doing charity work.
“When I went to college I ended up being Vice President of Habitat for Humanity at my college. I went to Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, and did some work on some homes there. I ran a most likely illegal $10 re-buy fundraiser tournament at my college that drew about 40 players and raised about $900 for Habitat for Humanity, and some donated prizes like a flat screen TV and stuff.”
15 is a very young age…your brother must have been a very influential person?
“He has always been a huge influence on my life. I didn’t fully grasp the scope of how important it was to help others when I was young. I grew up in a lower-middle class family and we didn’t have much growing up, so we never had a lot to give. But you can give your time even when you don’t have money. It does a lot of good for the person doing it, and not just the person being helped.”
When it comes to your choice of charity are you a head or heart man?
“I find that my head and my heart are pretty close together on these topics. Mostly I am looking to see that the majority of the money is not only going to help people, but it’s going to be used effectively. So, for example, the American Cancer Society spends 75% of their money on admin, so most of it goes to the company and not on cancer research – stuff like that.
“So doing your homework is very important even if you are helping a cause that’s close to your heart. Are they unintentionally wasting money where they could be using it effectively for example?
“The charities that have always been close to my heart are helping people which is food banks, and building houses for poor families. Habit homeowners need to do 250 hrs of work on someone else’s house as well. They really choose the people who are being helped really well, and use the money really well.
“Habitat have donated materials, donated labor and sometimes they build houses for somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 which is ridiculous. Then they work with banks to try and get people zero interest mortgages, so they get the house for very little money.
“The food banks I have partnered with are ones I have looked into and are really doing a lot with a little. One of the main things with food banks, is you don’t pay for the food a lot of time. Most of it is donated. For example we took two pallets of potatoes for the food banks, and had to go through them and throw away the gross ones, and bag up the good ones.”
Community seems to be very important to you?
“Absolutely. It’s interesting because I have wandered around so much that I feel like I am a part of so many communities. The first event we had was for the Vegas Food Bank, then we ran one for Borgata and raised money for the local Habitat for Humanity out there, but also, in Florida, we did a combination of work for the local Habitat for Humanity and Habit for Humanity International. So I like to work for communities that helped raise me, and where I live now, but there is something to be said for using some of your time for helping people in other parts of the world.”
What have you learned from the first three events?
“The things that went really well is we all got quite drunk and went all-in a lot. We had some of the best times I have had in poker. You can sometimes forget why you love poker so much. It’s easy, especially during downswings, to forget to enjoy the game for what it is. Everyone was drinking, gambling, and having a great time.
“We raised around $35,000 in the three events we have held so far. What I have learned is we have to work harder at marketing it to the non-poker people. We need to get the word out to people who don’t ordinarily play poker a lot, that they can play poker with professional poker players, celebrities and models and the like.
“It’s a great opportunity for recreational players to play with the likes of James Woods, Joanna Krupa, Ryan Cabrera, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Merson, Ryan Riess and Carlos Mortensen. It’s good to come and play the game without that intimidation factor, and just have fun.”
How did you manage to get Joanna Krupa to play in the event? Her appearance in the tournament went viral.
“I have to give credit to PokerStars on that one. The Seminole Hard Rock have a partnership with Stars, and Ray Stefanelli – who was originally the Marketing Director for Borgata who moved down to Hard Rock and then back to Borgata – he is one of the best people to work with in poker, and he called me one day and told me that Stars were adding in a load of prizes, and had invited some Miami Heat stars, and Joanna Krupa…I was like…you have got to be kidding me!
“That was amazing. It really speaks to the synergy that’s there when charity is involved. I have had unreal support from people who built my website, my accountant, all of the pros. Everyone is working for free. It’s incredible how many people help when they know that you are working towards helping the Food Bank and Habit for Humanity.
“It’s what I counted on when started the thing, but at the same time it’s amazing to see it come to fruition and very humbling to see it all coming together.”
Poker’s association with charity is very prevalent right now, has it always been like this?
“There has always been a decent number of charity poker tournaments around, but there have also been a few that have ruined it for everyone else. They have either raised money for less than reputable causes or stole money along the way. It kind of died off after Black Friday because Stars and Full Tilt sponsored a lot of them.
“It reinvigorated my passion for the idea for running my own events. Back in the day the charity events never seemed to be very convenient for us. I try to make sure that my tournaments are held very convenient for poker players to attend and give back.
“I am really glad to see things like REG. How well the charity is using the money is a big way that I determine whether or not I want to invest money for that charity over another. So the way that they are looking at the best way to spend the money, is so good. It’s really great to see people in the poker community who are generally interested in doing this and raising money for such great causes.”
How can more people get behind the CSOP?
“Retweet, tell their friends, get involved, turn up, get ready with a lot of re-buys and a lot of tip money for drinks. I can’t stress it enough. Everyone involved has said they can’t believe how much fun they have had at the events. The more the word gets out, the more fun people will have, and the more people will play.”
What are your long term aspirations?
“I would like to compete against myself and say I would like to raise more than I have grossed in poker tournaments. If I can raise more in charity than I have grossed in poker tournaments that would be a pretty great milestone in my life.”