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Over the last few years the poker world has stepped up its charity game in a big way, peaking last year when the first-ever Big One for One Drop raised millions of dollars for human aid around the world. In this new video celebrities and wealthy poker players Ray Romano, Rob Iler, Chamath Palihapitiya, Brandon Steven and Joe Hachem, explain why they're passionate about philanthropy and why poker is a perfect platform to raise funds and awareness.
Ray: Yes I'm an amateur, I know the game, and I'm grinding and I'm being patient, and I can get lucky and have it pay off. If I made the cash I would think I earned it. If I made the final table, I would think something's wrong with the cosmos, watch out for sinkholes and other shit. To make some money would be nice, and I'm not doing it for the money but anything I win will be donated to charity because I'm just here for the fun.
Matt: From Ante Up for Africa to the $1 million, Big One for One Drop, poker has generated millions of dollars for charity. Challenging the stereotype, wealthy poker players are using the game as a platform to raise funds and awareness for important causes around the world.
Joe: The most charitable people are in poker. They are always willing to give something up. They are always willing to help out. I do a lot of charity work and I think it's the least that we can do to give back. We live a very blessed life, we do something that we love and we make money out of it.
Ray: I get sponsored in every year. Somebody puts me in, I wear a hat, I get the 10,000, I go play. So I've decided, if I win, I'll do it for charity. Having said that, the poker community is doing a tremendous amount for charity. I've played in Annie Duke's for Africa, and the things they do now with the million dollars. They give back a lot. I do something for a very small charity at home, called the Harvest Home, which helps these unwed mothers who are having a difficult time, and it helps them have their baby, and it gives them support and options. My wife is a breast cancer survivor, so we do a lot of work with breast cancer and all. I don't want to name any particular one because I do a lot of them.
Joe: Just the pure nature of the WSAP and tournament poker, in general, attracts a lot of different people into the arena. Wealthy businessmen, people are total novices, who've got money, though. They see poker players getting involved in charity, they are likely to jump on board as well. I don't think the million-dollar One Drop would have gotten together if we didn't have the backing of those business people who came along as well and decide, yeah, we are going to be involved in this, we want to be involved in this.
Brandon: I think the One Drop Tournament is very special. I'm really excited I participated in it last year and this year. Last year I had a good deep run. I had I think 30% of myself roughly in the last year's One Drop, and I went to local businesses and business owners that are friends of mine, that I do business with, and I said, "Just buy a piece," and I bought a piece for a local charity and about four of them also bought pieces for local charities too. So they bought a piece, part of one, whatever proceeds go straight to the charity. The Wichita Children's Home is going to get a check which is a great foundation of Wichita. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Gift which is Genesis for Fitness and Tennis, and two other small charities.
Chamath: What's great this year is I've always been playing for the Boys and Girls Club, but this year one of my good friends launched a great foundation called Leanin.org. Her name is Sheryl Sandberg, she and I worked together at Facebook, and that foundation is all about giving women a framework so that they can become more empowered and really drive your own career and create support systems for them. This year I'm playing for both the Boys and Girls of the Peninsula and Leanin.org. So I'm really excited to hopefully win some money for both of them.
Robert: Not even like to talk about actual charities but their families. I have friends who are out here, when they win $800, we go to Western Union. They Western Union their family back home 200. I help my family when I can, obviously holidays, birthdays and stuff like that. I came from nothing. My family was poor when I grew up and food stamps and all that. So the way I was raised was taught value money and I still do. So I never really feel secure. I always feel like it all came so fast that it could all, you feel like it could all go away so fast.
Joe: The way that poker players live, the average person just is gob-smacked, they can't understand how they can just throw money around like that, but that's part of the lifestyle. I think that's probably an element that helps poker players be more giving in charitable situations because they are used to money coming and going out of their hands all the time. So if they think it's going for a good cause, then all the better.
Brandon: They feel like they are lucky to be where they are, playing for heaps of money, when I think they feel they are fortunate. They have the talent to be there, so I think they like to give back. I feel like they go from hero to broke real quick. They go from a little bit of money to a lot of money, to no money. So when they have money, I feel like they do feel like, "Hey listen, I might blow through this, let's give some away for a good karma." I do think a lot of it is karma to people.
Joe: For me personally, it makes me feel better about myself. It's a personal thing. I'm sure other people will look at it and say well, this is karma, this is me giving back to the world.
Ray: When you sit at the table, it's this, it's like a cop. When you see a cop, there's a wall, but then when he's off duty, he's this person. These poker players have their face on, and as soon as it's over and you talk to them, they are just these great guys and it shows in the stuff they do in the charitable community. It shows how generous they are.