It has been said many times that poker players can be a very generous group of people. They participate in numerous charity tournaments each year, as well as raise funds in other ways or simply donate to worthy causes. And it is not just the high-stakes players, as those of many bankroll levels find ways to give a portion of their winnings or give in some form or fashion.
During the poker boom, the charity tournaments and fundraising drives were very common and effective, but the events of and following Black Friday left many players in tough financial positions. And as players dropped out of the poker community and many larger events fell off the poker schedule in the United States, charities suffered as well. While the poker industry still struggles, some players have found their way back to profitability and their philanthropic ways.
REG Leads the Way
One reason for that resurgence in charitable giving is REG, or Raising for Effective Giving. The group was founded in 2014 and embraced by many well-known poker players, namely Liv Boeree Igor Kurganov, and Philipp Gruissem. They became involved with the Foundation for Effective Altruism and took on significant roles with REG in order to spread the word about donating to charitable organizations around the world. REG takes those donations and distributes them to groups that are the most effective in reducing suffering around the world by helping the most people possible for the amount of money raised.
Boeree and Kurganov, among others, have been instrumental in spreading the word about REG, which led to setting the 2015 donation mark at more than $500,000. Players like Brian Rast and Sorrel Mizzi hosted a high-profile live boxing match at the end of 2015 to raise awareness and more than $8K, and more players have taken up the banner by wearing REG patches at poker events, pledging portions of their winnings, and urging others to do the same via social media.
One of the original and continuing goals of REG was to establish a “culture of giving” in the poker community, making it something that is integrated into the fabric of the game and extends beyond the occasional charity-specific poker tournament.
Setting the Bar Higher and Higher
In the spirit of transparency, REG releases an annual report detailing total donations and their beneficiaries. The 2016 report is out, and it shows a total of $1,462,450 raised last year alone. And it brings the grand total since the organization’s 2014 inception to nearly $2.3 million.
Players can choose an organization to receive various percentages of their funds or allow REG to give funds to where they are most needed. Of the dollars allocated by players themselves, the most went to the Against Malaria Foundation ($922,557), with the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative in second with $224,215 and the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in third with $121,657. Other funds were given to groups like Mercy For Animals, Animal Ethics, the Nonhuman Rights Project, and GiveWell. REG-allocated funds were given to some of the aforementioned groups, as well as the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy, the Humane Slaughter Association, and the Swiss Vegan Society.
The most popular cause was poverty alleviation, followed by animal welfare and climate change, then cause-neutral meta charities and then to research.
Excited and proud WE raised $1.7m this year. The grind can be long and arduous but this makes it worth it. Motivated to raise $3.4m in 2017— Martin Crowley (@bigpapagates) January 4, 2017
Player Donation Drives Drove Giving
REG noted that a few poker players used their platforms and donation-matching abilities to go over and above their own chosen gifts. Dan Smith ran a very popular fundraiser at the end of 2016 with a holiday matching drive, with some monies going to REG and others distributed to other Smith-chosen charities. He received help from numerous fellow players, as well as professional DFS players Martin and Tom Crowley, who gave more than $1 million.
Dimi and Dan Shak hosted their own matching challenge, which raised a total of $70K, and the long-running All In For Africa tournaments were held at various locations in Minnesota to give a total of $22,400 specifically to the Against Malaria Foundation.
Whether it is a trend or a new way of life for players, charities around the world are benefiting from the generous nature of the poker community. More players are hosting matching-donation drives throughout the year for various causes, with REG being one of the most discussed and popular ways to give on a regular basis.
As REG board members and fundraisers will attest, there are many ways to give without breaking the bank or winning millions of dollars in a high roller tournament. Anyone can pledge to give via the REG home page or read more about the charities open for 2017 donations on the website.