EPT Barcelona is a showcase poker tournament that attracts thousands of players, stimulates the local economy and awards a massive first-place prize. But could poker provide an even more lasting effect on the city?
There is a man standing in front of the Gran Casino Barcelona. He’s holding a sign with a hole in the middle where he sometimes sticks his head through.
The man is dressed in cheaper clothing, and he has a dog with him. He doesn't exactly look like one of the many high rollers that attend EPT Barcelona with the goal of raking in a huge score. At first glance you might mistake him for a beggar.
However, the man – who’s called Marcos – isn’t asking for money, and his sign surprisingly reads: “Poker will eliminate homelessness”.
Upon talking to Marcos, it turns out that there is a charity campaign behind this, initiated by an American named Andrew Funk, who is also present in the casino.
Looking Beyond the Casino
Funk is in his mid-thirties and was brought up in Texas. He studied literature and economics, worked both as a Digital Consultant and a tourist guide in Malta, spent time in Peru and several other countries before he came to Spain.
Asked why he would get engaged in charity work he answers: “My father told me, 'If you don’t offer anything to society, don’t expect anything back.'”
And this is the idea: “We want to offer homeless people a chance to use their talent. Everybody has one. Marcos outside the casino is a poet. He’s written a poem call “All or Nothing” especially for the EPT.”
“It takes about €10,000 to get someone off the street. We’re taking about €3,000 to give them a place to stay and €7,000 to support their talent, in this case print the book Marcos has written.”
“Poker players like to gamble, and we want them to see their donations as bets. Bets on homeless people who -- thanks to their donations -- get a new chance in life. I realize that betting on people’s lives outside the casino is a hard thing to do.”
“We already have Adrian Mateos on board, who is the best poker player in Spain, and he's going to donate 1% of his Main Event winnings to us, and Felipe Ramos from team PokerStars is also interested.”
“1% of the winnings isn’t much for a player, but it can change the whole life of someone living in the streets.”
“There are officially 941 people in Barcelona who sleep in the streets. Our goal is to get housing for all of them and show them that their life will be better if they have a proper place to sleep and do something they’re good at.”
“I honestly think that 941 is not a big number. We have started this initiative last year, and we expect to double the number of people we can help every four to six months.”
Small Percentage Goes a Long Way
The association Funk is working for has a team not only of office people, it extends to a psychologist, digital marketing, and a chiropractic who treats homeless people for free.
Funk is trying to appeal to the conscience of poker players, who might struggle with the fact that poker, in itself, does not generally contribute much to society.
Quite a few poker pros have already started to get involved in charity work. Perhaps most notably Phil Gruissem and Liv Boeree and their REG initiative.
Surely, there are many more who would like to get involved in charity, but don’t quite know how and where to start.
Andrew Funk has been around the casino and the poker tournament area the last couple of days and he's happy to talk to any number of poker players and explain the initiative.