Charitable organizations in the US are still in the process of recovery from the exceptionally difficult times of 2020 and 2021. With so many events cancelled and movements restricted, raising funds was exponentially harder – and at a time when routine donors were facing uncertainties of their own.
Now, with the world back in some sort of order, the great and the good from the world of celebrities are supporting their chosen charitable causes with more energy and passion than ever. But this year’s big trend is not to run marathons, or to release a comedy song.
Charity poker events are trending like never before. Here, we will take a look at a couple of recent and forthcoming charity tournaments and what famous faces are showcasing their card playing skills in the name of worthy causes. We will also dig deeper into the fascination with poker that draws together so many famous names.
Ted Danson and Cheryl Hines stepped up for One Step Closer
The Step Closer Foundation was founded in 2017 by Jacob Zalewski and the late Sam Simon to raise money for cerebral palsy research and to provide support for those living with the condition. In March 2023, they hosted a star-studded poker night at the Aria in Las Vegas. The buy-in was $1,000, with 50 percent going straight to the charity and the rest into the prize pool.
Among the famous names who arrived and ponied up to support the event were Cheers legend Ted Danson, Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines and Hollywood veteran Kevin Pollak, who appeared in A Few Good Men, End of Days, The Usual Suspects and many more hit movies. MMA fighter Roy “Big Country” Nelson was also in attendance, and Baywatch star Jessa Hinton was the red carpet host.
Prior to the event, Cheryl Hines told reporters that organizer Jacob Zalewski is “quite an inspiration.” She added that she has a nephew with cerebral palsy, so she understands the challenges. She said that for Jacob to create an organization like this to help others while battling cerebral palsy himself is “just amazing.”
Ed Norton and Hank Azaria answering the CALL
CALL for Action is an online charity poker series that was set up in 2020 during those dark times we mentioned earlier. The next event takes place in May and proceeds will be divided between CARE International and the winning player’s charity of choice. The list of participants sounds like a who’s who of popular culture over the past 20 years.
Just a few of the famous names include Edward Norton, Simpsons voice actor Hank Azaria, Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander, Don Cheadle of Boogie Nights and Ocean’s 11 fame and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s very own Jeff Garlin.
The tables will all feature a blend of celebrities and fans, who will play down to a final table. It’s a great opportunity to rub shoulders with some famous names, and maybe even show them a move or two at the poker table, all for a good cause.
The celebrity poker fascination and the WSOP
Celebrities and poker have gone together since the first table opened up on the Las Vegas strip in the 1940s. But back then, it wasn’t something that was talked about, at least not outside the tabloid press. Poker games had certain associations back then that were less than wholesome, a residual echo from the prohibition days. From what we now know about those early days and the characters that used to hang around with the Rat Pack at the El Rancho, people were probably wise not to look too closely.
But all that changed in the 1980s and 90s. The World Series of Poker and its TV coverage gave us a glimpse of just how exciting the game could be, and when we were then treated to the sight of Matt Damon in Rounders we were left in no doubt – especially as he and lifelong friend Ben Affleck started beating the pro poker players at their own game in a classic case of life imitating art.
Where Messrs Affleck and Damon led the way, others have been fast to follow, and today, Gen-Z influencers like Drake are as likely to join the fray at the World Series of Poker. This year’s event gets underway at the end of May, incidentally, and you can use the Tight Poker website to check out WSOP updates for everything you need to know about the US’s biggest poker event by far.
Art Poker retains a sense of exclusivity
The egalitarian world of charity poker and the WSOP is well and good, but for those who prefer their celebrities on a pedestal and miss the days of Frank, Sammy and the boys locked away with the high rollers, there is some good news.
Vanity Fair provided a fascinating glimpse last month into the world of Art Poker. Nate Freeman describes a bizarre world in which famously reclusive painter Richard Prince drops by unexpectedly to deal the cards and mentions it on his Instagram where it is seen by “Dear Leo” – Leonardo DiCaprio to the outside world – who, happening to be in town, joins the fray.
To add to the surreal scene, Jack Black is also at the table, blithely dropping f-bombs as the cards don’t go his way, completely ignored by Ellen DeGeneres, while Tobey Maguire looks on.
The whole thing reads a little like a comedy of manners imagined for the stage by Oscar Wilde. However, these social poker meet ups among America’s elite happen in the real world, or as close to the real world as Los Angeles can ever be, every few months.