The connection between charity and poker

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She lies in a pool of blood.

A cute and cuddly two-year-old girl. The tremendous weight of a van wheel rests on her fragile body. The van is immobile. The driver is considering his or her options. It drives away, leaving the child bleeding to death on the ground.

A man approaches the young child. Help at last. A saviour. He walks past; flagrantly disregarding her. He doesn't even look at her. A second man drives past on his motorcycle. He does look. That's all he does. He doesn't stop.

Another van approaches and runs over her legs. Eventually, a street cleaner stops, calls the emergency services, they arrive; the child dies.

That is a real story.

The incident, captured on CCTV, was used by the philosopher, Peter Singer, during a TED Talk that has been watched by nearly 1.3 million viewers.

After showing his audience this disturbing footage, he then asks for a show of hands. He wants to know how many people would have stopped and helped the child? As you would expect, arms are raised all over the arena.

Singer then shows the audience figures from a UNICEF article in 2012 showing evidence that 6.9 million children aged five or under died that year, as a result of preventable poverty-related incidents. Breaking it down, that's 19,000 children who die, daily.

Singer then poses a question...An important question:

"Does it matter that we are not walking past them on the street?"

The most importance of ruminative soliloquies springs up like a leak in a rusty pipe.

            It's a game changer.

            No.

            It's a life changer.

Peter Singer: the why and how of effective altruism

Raising For Effective Giving (REG)

In 1990, there were 12 million children aged five or under that were dying on an annual basis. Two decades later and we have halved that number. How?

In an excellent piece written in The Guardian by Michael Sanders and Francesca Tamma, they point to three different reasons they believe people donate to charity.

  1. They donate because they value the social good done by the charity.
  2. They donate because they have an altruistic urge to contribute to the social good of the charity.
  3. They donate because they want to show off to their friends.

Raising for Effective Giving (REG) is a meta-charity that emerged from a meeting of the minds between several influential people within the poker industry, and effective altruists from Switzerland.

Effective altruists consider the question: "How can I make the biggest difference that I can?"

To determine the answer they use rational and logical thinking. They use mathematical reasoning such as Expected Value (EV) to determine the right course of action. They draw inspiration from the world of philosophy to ask the right questions, and if necessary, pursue the contrarian view.

  • Effective = doing the most good with the resources you have.
  • Altruism = Improving the lives of others.

The effective altruists formed REG with a focus on the poker. They have since expanded into areas of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and video games. They have plans to move into finance, and anywhere else where they find pools of like-minded thinkers.

REG is only one of a million plus organisations designed with one focus: to reduce that UNICEF number down to zero.

Philipp Gruissem

To understand how effective altruism works I want to explore the world of Philipp Gruissem.
With close to $10m in live tournament earnings, and much more earned playing online, and in undisclosed cash game action, it’s fair to say that Gruissem was one of the best poker players in the world.

But money isn’t everything.

It wasn't long before Gruissem started asking himself a lot of questions concerning the meaning of life; his purpose and where he could do the most good. For a moment, he considered leaving the poker industry. Taking money from people didn't feel right. Then he met the effective altruists. Everything changed. REG was born.

Let's imagine Gruissem did leave poker and travelled to countries in dire need to take a hands-on approach to helping people. While this may have made him feel better, was he doing the most good he could have done?

GiveWell is a charity evaluator that ranks charities on their effectiveness on a monetary level. One of the most effective charities is De Worm The World Initiative, where for every $100 invested, sufficient children can be de-wormed thus affording them an additional 10-years of collective school time. It costs only 5 cents for these children to spend an extra day in school. Effective charity evaluators like GiveWell have enabled the sum makers to equate $3,400 in donations as a life saved.

REG has a pledge where members donate 2% of their gross winnings. Had Gruissem been an REG member from the time he had joined the poker industry he would have given close to $200,000 to effective charities. He would have saved 59 lives. Would he have saved that many working in the trenches in Malawi? I will leave you to do the maths.

The Poker Industry and Charitable Giving

Researchers have unearthed some reasons why people give, and don't give to worthwhile causes. I want to focus on the main one that has propelled the poker industry towards the top of the most charitable sporting/gaming institutions in the world. 

Giving is Contagious

Researchers from a variety of universities across the US, including Harvard, have found that giving is contagious. When we see someone that we respect, or share the same social/business space with, then we are more likely to act in the same way.

It's why REG has been such a great kick in the ass for poker's generous mood. Poker and charity have a long history, but since REG came along, it's like a “hare on steroids” has replaced the “weed smoking tortoise” in the “get shit done” departments of the various charities and poker companies.

The genius behind the 2% pledge is the more players who take it and wear the patch, the more likely they are to talk about the positivity of their service, and the more likely more people will join. The more people join, the more influential the movement becomes and the more likely other groups are to emerge or, at least, take the handbrake off.

In the past few months alone, we have seen REG involved in numerous different initiatives including a boxing match between Brian Rast and Sorel Mizzi. World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event fourth place finisher Max Steinberg is a member of REG.

The World Poker Tour (WPT) has held numerous charity events, including linking arms with the Tiger Woods Foundation. Poker player Matt Stout created the non-profit Charity Series of Poker (CSOP). Vanessa Selbst is on the board of the non-profit Urban Justice Centre and recently hosted a celebrity poker night called Blinds For Justice. Jennifer Harman recently held a charity event in aid of Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the WSOP donates millions through their affiliation with One Drop.

I could go on and on...

Charity has become trendy, and I for one am not complaining.

Is Poker The Most Giving?

On Thursday 25th February 2016, the biggest names in poker will gather at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills for the second iteration of the American Poker Awards. During the inaugural event, Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton said that poker stood alone as the top providers of charitable donations in the world of sport.

Is that true?

Unfortunately, we don’t have a GiveWell type organisation hosting records of charitable giving by the numbers, but my research makes me believe we still have some work to do, but it’s close.

Bloomberg Business reported in 2010 that Major League Baseball (MLB) contributed $100m+ to charity each year. In that same report, the PGA Tour was said to have been donating $40m per year, back in 2007, and players were also contributing $30m in donations four to five years later.

In 2014, REG was able to move more than half a million dollars in that first year of operation. Each time the WPT "All-In" For Kids events are held they are raising between $700,000 and $1,000,000, and the WSOP's work with the One Drop Foundation can amass anywhere between $4m and 8m a year in charitable donations.

From a personal standpoint, according to Dosomething.org, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo is the man recognised as the Sportsman doing more good than anyone else in the world. There are no financial records to support this accolade, although it's common knowledge he donated £5m to the Save The Children charity in aid of the Nepal Earthquake relief.

"My father always taught me that when you help other people, then God will give you double," Ronaldo said in an interview with The Guardian. "And that's what has really happened to me. When I have helped other people who are in need, God has helped me more.”

Here are the Top 10 athletes that did the most good in 2015 according to Dosomething.org 

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Football)
  2. John Cena (Wrestling)
  3. Serena Williams (Tennis)
  4. Yuna Kim (Figure skating)
  5. Neymar (Football)
  6. LeBron James (Basketball)
  7. Heather O’Reilly (Football)
  8. Maria Sharapova (Tennis)
  9. Mo’ne Davis (Baseball)
  10. Richard Sherman (American football) 

Other names missing from that list include Tiger Woods (raises around $1m per year purely through his Tiger Jam nights that include celebrity poker events). Dikembe Mutombo, who once donated $15 million to build a hospital in his native Congo, and David Beckham, who raises millions through his work as a UNICEF ambassador.

How do the individual poker players charitable donations stack up?

In 2014, REG member, and WSOP Main Event winner, Martin Jacobson, donated $250,000 to effective animal charities. In the inaugural $1m buy-in WSOP Big One For One Drop, third place finisher, David Einhorn, gave the entirety of his $4.3m winnings to charity, and fifth place Guy Laliberte handed his full $1.8m in winnings to charity. Bill Klein followed their lead donating his $2.4m paycheck to charity when he finished runner-up to Jonathan Duhamel in the $111,111 One Drop High Roller.

Except Jacobson, the other three mentioned only play poker as a hobby. REG has only 200 members, so there is so much more the poker community can do. It's not the time to start patting people on the back, just yet.

Summing Up

Writers like myself encouraging people to join organisations such as REG have rattled people’s cages a little. Daniel Negreanu aka @RealKidPoker recently tweeted:

"Don't judge people for giving to charities they are passionate about by saying – there are better causes to give to - it's just not nice!”

Negreanu's reaction stems from a regular head-versus-heart debate, that seems to rage amongst the poker community about where to donate their money. But this is a good debate to have. It means people care. It means people are giving to charities.

Many people believe they don't have any money to give. That used to be me. Today, I ensure that the first thing I do when I get paid is to donate 4% to effective charities. That number will rise by 1% each year. When I become financially independent, 100% of my earnings will go to effective charities.

If you are earning over $52,000 (£34,000) per annum, then you are earning more than 99% of the world's population. Drop that down to $11,000 (£7,000) and you are still in the top 85% of earners globally.

I doubt you are likely to see children dying in the street.

But, think about Peter Singer’s words. Watch the video. Remember, the question:

"Does it matter that we are not walking past them on the street?"

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