I’ve always been a sucker for a great gambling scene portrayed on television, as they happen to blend my two passions – TV sitcoms and casino gambling. But oddly enough, my favorite gambling scenes from the small screen don’t play out anywhere near a casino.

In a Season 2 episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, Will and the Banks family wind up dressing to the nines for the local country club’s annual Monte Carlo fundraiser. For most of the episode, Will and Carlton experience the respective highs and lows that come with casino games. Will hits a hot roll on the craps table, despite Carlton protesting that his exotic bets don’t exactly offer the best odds. In the end, Will wins $1,000 in a raffle, but refuses to donate the check back to the club’s designated charity – choosing instead to give the money to his underprivileged pal from the basketball courts.

Season 2 of “The Office” also took a shot at the charity gambling night trope, as Michael, Dwight, Jim, Pam, and the rest of the Dunder-Mifflin crew hosted their own casino event. IN this case, employees were playing for their own favorite charities, leading to increasingly intense competition at the tables.

In a particularly funny aside, the documentary crew catches a fleeting glimpse of Kevin Malone sporting a gold bracelet while playing No Limit Texas Hold’em. Later in the episode, Kevin reveals that he won the jewelry as part of his victory in the 2002 World Series of Poker (WSOP) $2,500 No-Limit 2-7 Draw tournament.

As an avid gambler who has spent the last 25 years earning a living by grinding blackjack, video poker, and poker tournaments, these scenes always manage to warm my heart. Another reason I enjoy them so much is they managed to show me an entirely different side of the industry – gambling for charity.

Despite my decades of experience as a professional gambler – or perhaps, because of it – I had never spent an evening playing cards, craps, and other games for the sake of charity. Don’t get me wrong now, I love to volunteer at local animal shelters and I’ve been known to make my fair share of anonymous donations to worthy causes. I’ve just never had the opportunity to blend philanthropy with my love for playing casino games.

That all changed a few months back though, when I learned about a local newspaper hosting a charity poker tournament back in my hometown of Sierra Vista, Arizona. The SV News Network No Limit Texas Hold’em Charity Poker Tournament Event took place on July 14, and seeing as how I was visiting my parents for the weekend, I decided to stop in and play some cards.

I had an incredible time overall, and the experience was unique to say the least, but there were a few drawbacks that left me wondering if charity gambling nights are really for me. Thankfully, in the months since then, I’ve had the pleasure of playing a few different charity casino events in my home base of Las Vegas, so I feel prepared to offer readers an objective review of my experience.

Below you’ll find three good reasons to give charity gambling nights a go, followed by three drawbacks that may leave you looking for the exits.



Gambling for Charity Ensures Everybody’s a Winner

First and foremost, the goal of any good casino or poker charity event is to raise money for a worthy cause.

For the last 20 years, golf legend Tiger Woods has hosted his annual Tiger Jam charity event in Las Vegas to benefit his Tiger Woods Foundation. The charity is devoted to empowering students worldwide by funding scholarships, after-school programs, and educational programs.

As part of the Tiger Jam festivities, Woods has partnered with the World Poker Tour (WPT) to host a high-roller charity poker tournament that boasts a buy-in of $11,000. For that hefty price, entrants can rub elbows with poker pros like Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and Maria Ho, along with dozens of celebrity guests.

Over the years, Woods’ poker night and other affiliated events have generated $20 million in funding for his Foundation. With that in mind, players who wind up going bust can always rest assured that even a losing night at the tables will benefit others in need. And while the five-figure entry fee and eight-figure fundraising effort are certainly outliers in the charity gambling space, casino and enthusiasts of all caliber are known for putting their money where their mouth is.

Another poker-themed charity drive first held in 2014, known as the Charity Series of Poker (CSOP) , managed to raise over $14,000 for Three Square, the largest food bank in Las Vegas. You’ll learn more about the CSOP a little later on, but since launching the concept, poker pro Matt Stout has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars hosting charity poker tournaments from coast to coast.

In the state of Indiana alone, organizations like the Fraternal Order of Eagles and the Northside Knights of Columbus have used charity gambling events to raise $3.9 million and $3.75 million, respectively. Whether you’re playing poker with Tiger Woods and the “Poker Brat,” or trying to hit a bingo with your granny at her church fundraiser, gambling for charity’s sake is a win-win proposition.


Great Way to Learn New Games Outside of Pressure-Packed Casino

Another reason to consider casino gambling for charity is the refreshing change of pace this unique setting offers.
For beginners who want to try their hand at craps, for example, dealing with the high-pressure environment of a crowded casino craps table can be too much to bear. High-rollers have huge bets on the line, everybody is yelling slang terms and splashing chips on the felt, and an army of dealers, stickmen, and pit bosses oversee the entire spectacle.

If you’re never played the game before, making your maiden voyage amidst all of this activity can be quite nerve-wracking indeed. The same holds true no matter your game of choice too.

Take your seat at a blackjack table in any casino – especially in the “third base” position where players act on their hands last – and you be better be prepared to play perfectly. Any deviation from blackjack’s basic strategy will draw dirty looks and rude comments, and most players mistakenly believe that the third base seat’s decisions dictate the dealer’s eventual outcome.

Roulette regulars will snap at you for taking too long to place your chips, knocking their chip stacks over by accident, or even when you win on a number they failed to cover. If you like table games such as Three Card Poker or Let It Ride, missing an “opportunity” to wager on the high house edge side bets will almost always draw a scolding from more experienced players.

The machine games like slots and video poker can be a bit more amenable to newbies, but even here, failing to adhere to certain points of etiquette can create conflicts. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than “stealing” some old biddy’s lucky machine by mistake.

All in all, the supposedly cool and casual atmosphere promised by casino commercials can easily disappear when you’re new on the scene. Casino gambling is a world defined by seemingly undecipherable lingo, house rules that vary from venue to venue, and unwritten codes of conduct that must be learned through firsthand experience. And that’s where casino gambling charity events come into play.

If you’re looking for a pressure-free place to try a new game, or simply gamble for the first time, why not ditch the casino for a charity night instead? Here, everybody is playing for the same cause, so winning and losing isn’t of paramount importance. Sure, you’ll always hope to catch the perfect card to make 21, or cash in on a well-timed single number wager when the wheel spins in your direction. But without the real-world implications that come with losing in a genuine casino, players who frequent charity events are much more laid-back and understanding.

That was my experience at the SV News Network No Limit Texas Hold’em Charity Poker Tournament Event back in July anyway. I’ve played my fair share of poker tournaments over the years, and whether they were under the WSOP or WPT banner, these serious events all had one thing in common – “fish” weren’t exactly treated with respect.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a respected and well-known poker pro berate a less skilled player for making basic mistakes. Maybe they miss their ante, or more likely, they play a trashy hand that somehow takes down the pro’s premium pocket pair.

When these situations occur, poker players with their bankroll on the line don’t tend to be very forgiving. But as I played in the local charity poker game, I experienced the flip side of that equation. The cause on this occasion was saving the area’s last no-kill animal shelter, so plenty of folks who didn’t know folds from the flop showed up to take part. These people didn’t know a lick about Texas Hold’em rules and gameplay, but they wanted to get in the game and assist the local animal shelter.

At first, I expected the poker rookies just now learning the game to gum up the works. And sure enough, these guys and gals were slower than most, asking basic questions about what they could bet or whether or not they had to call. This did slow the game down somewhat, but much to my surprise, nobody said a negative word about it. Rather than complain and chirp, the more experienced players on hand simply guided the rookies until they learned the ropes.

In the end, even though they all went bust before the prizes were awarded, I watched a dozen or so players thoroughly enjoy their first experience playing a Texas Hold’em tournament. You just can’t say the same for “real” events on the poker circuit, which is why I’ll surely be back for next year’s SV News Network charity night.

The Biggest and Best Events Attract Hollywood Stars and Celebrities

I touched on this already when discussing Tiger Woods’ annual charity poker tournament, but the best casino gambling events can be a great place for celebrity spotting. Along with Woods himself, Tiger Jam’s poker night is frequented by stars like Mark Cuban of “Shark Tank” fame, NBA superstar Chris Paul, singer Kid Rock, and actor Mekhi Phifer.

And over at the Charity Series of Poker, comic legends like Jason Alexander of “Seinfeld,” Brad Garrett of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and Hank Azaria of “The Simpsons” are all regular attendees. The CSOP was envisioned by poker pro Matt Stout, who has long championed hunger-based charities in his adopted home of Las Vegas. In an interview with Poker Update, the gregarious Stout was asked about his favorite memories from the CSOP – and getting to know celebrities who share the same passion for philanthropy was first on his list:

“It has been a blast meeting and getting to know some of the celebrities who’ve come out to play in our CSOP events.But my most memorable moment with a celebrity came when I spoke with Brad Garrett about why he started the Maximum Hope Foundation, and I could tell how genuine and heartfelt his reason for starting the charity was. I always knew he was hilarious and had a good reputation as being down-to-earth despite his status (not to mention his three Emmys), but in that moment, I could see that he wasn’t just a celebrity championing a cause for the sake of having a cause.

I could see how close this foundation and cause was to his heart and decided that I wanted CSOP to be a part of what they’re doing.”



Gambling for Charity Doesn’t Offer the Same Thrill

For as much fun as I had at the SV News Network poker tournament, I’d be lying if I said the experience was really a true poker game.

I know I was definitely taking things easy on the rookies at the table, playing a passive game and happily folding when I knew winning the pot would make my opponent’s day. We were all there to support the local animal shelter, after all, so trying my hardest to snatch somebody’s stack with bluffs and bullying just didn’t make much sense.

And while the change of pace from hardcore grinding was certainly welcome, I’ll be the first to admit I headed straight to Casino del Sol in nearby Tucson directly after I went bust. The charity poker was fun and all, but I was in the mood for a serious session testing my skills against other competent players.

This phenomenon holds true for traditional casino games like blackjack and craps too, thanks to the structure most charity casino events rely on.

Here’s how it works…

You’ll generally be asked to pay a cover charge that goes directly to the charity in question. From there, you can purchase gaming chips to send additional donations their way. Armed with chips, you’re now free to rove around the room taking your shot against the dealer in a variety of table games.

But unlike in a genuine casino, executing a perfectly timed double down to beat the dealer won’t exactly pad your bottom line. Sure, you’ll get more chips back in return, but these have no monetary value at all. At best, the charity night organizers will have door prizes and souvenirs available for purchase using the gaming chips – but you can’t cash them in for actual dollars.

This isn’t some sort of bait and switch, mind you, as the rules of the road are clearly advertised beforehand. Even so, there’s a distinct “watered down” feeling which comes from winning – or losing, for that matter – in a gambling game where no true risks can be made, no rewards earned.

Many Charities in the Gambling Sphere Aren’t on the Up and Up

Unfortunately, this one’s true for many charitable organizations, as study after study has revealed willful misappropriation of donations for personal use.

This frivolous spending is often attributed to mysterious “administrative” fees, and as you can see here with this handy Charity Tracker tool even some of the most well-known groups send a huge portion of their fundraising back into their own pockets. But this seems to affect charities that revolve around poker and gambling to a greater extent.

Just listen to Matt Stout, who founded the CSOP specifically to combat unscrupulous poker tournament charity organizers:

“I want someone who has played our Vegas or Borgata events in the past to see a CSOP event on the schedule for SHRPO and say to himself or herself, ‘Not only is that event going to be a blast to play in, but the money is going to go where it’s supposed to go and help a great cause.’Sadly, the same could not be said for many charity poker tournaments that came before my time, but hopefully we can help restore some of the poker community’s faith in good, honest charity poker tournaments that are helping people who truly need it.

The CSOP simply does its part to help organize and promote the event and then has the casino cut a check directly to the beneficiary charity.”


Hosting a Charity Gambling Night Can Negatively Impact Nonprofit Tax Status

On a final note, this word of wisdom is directed more towards charity gambling event organizers, rather than the actual players.

Thanks to tangled web of local, state, and federal laws, the very concept of charity gambling may be banned in your jurisdiction. Most states allow charity gambling only under certain circumstances, and these laws can vary wildly across state lines. With this in mind, be sure to do your research and read up on your city and state gaming codes to determine whether hosting a charity casino night is legally permissible.

But even if it is, charitable groups that rely on their nonprofit status – known as 501(c)(3)organizations under the federal Tax Code – should be wary about branching out into gambling.

Take a look at what the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has to say in “Tax Exempt Organizations and Gambling,” a publication covering rules and regulations for 501(c)(3) operators:

“A common misconception is that gaming is a ‘charitable’ activity. There is nothing inherently charitable about gaming. It is a recreational activity and a business.Although a charity may use the proceeds from gaming to pay expenses associated with its charitable programs, gaming itself does not further exempt purposes.

Thus, the sole purpose of a 501(c)(3) organization cannot be to conduct gaming.”


According to the IRS, 501(c)(3) groups can’t use gambling as ‘substantial’ portion of their charitable efforts. Instead, casino nights and their ilk must be confined to occasional events that only contribute a portion to the charity’s annual fundraising haul.

But what exactly does “substantial” mean in that regard? Well, this is how the IRS clarifies the situation in the aforementioned tax guide:

“The IRS determines whether an organization is conducting a ‘substantial’ unrelated activity by examining all of the facts and circumstances.There is no ‘bright-line’ or numerical test prescribed by the Code.

The IRS will consider the dollars raised by and spent on an unrelated activity as well as the time and other resources devoted to it in making the determination of substantiality.”


All things considered, charities should play their cards close to the vest when it comes to gambling-themed events. Always be sure to check with legal experts who can advise you on the relevant laws, and don’t hesitate to contact the IRS itself when it comes to preserving your group’s 501(c)(3) status.


Charity gambling nights certainly have their pros and cons, but my advice for anybody considering this rewarding experience is to try it for yourself. You can go local with a church or community group bingo night, head to your local casino for an annual holiday poker tournament fundraiser, or pony up the big bucks to take on Tiger himself – just so long as you give the whole scene an honest go.

If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy getting back to what makes gambling so great in the first place, the camaraderie and kinship one develops while winning and losing at games of chance and skill. And if you don’t exactly have a great time, that’s fine too, because taking the time to give charity gambling a shot means you contributed to something greater than yourself.

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