PokerStars Donates $1M for Saturday’s ‘Stars CALL For Action’ Celebrity Charity Event

For many years, the charity poker tournament has been a popular method of helping those in need, although with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and current shutdown of live poker, those wishing to stage such events have had to get creative.

On Saturday, PokerStars will host a celebrity-filled online poker tournament, the STARS Call For Action. The event is designed to raise money for multiple charitable organizations, including CARE International, a humanitarian organization with whom the online poker giant has worked in the past.

In fact, the event has already raised significant money as PokerStars is donating $1 million to the prize pool, all of which will be awarded to charitable organizations.

Star-studded line-up answers call for livestreamed charity event

The Stars CALL For Action begins Saturday, May 9 at 2 p.m. ET and will be streamed live by PokerStars via TwitchFacebook, and YouTube.

Among the many celebrities confirmed to be taking part include event organizer Hank Azaria, Don Cheadle, David Schwimmer, Bryan Cranston, Michael Cera, Amy Schumer, Jason Alexander, Brad Garrett, and Jon Hamm.

Screenwriter Brian Koppelman and Edward Norton are both scheduled to participate as well, meaning there will be a mini-Rounders reunion as Koppelman co-wrote the screenplay and Norton starred in the popular 1998 poker film.

Eric Bogosian, Kevin Pollak, Jeff Garlin, Michael Ian Black, and Tony Yazbeck are also among the growing list of celebrities slated to play. Others from both the entertainment and sports industries are expected to take part as well.

Those playing will be streaming from their homes as they play in order to be seen on the livestream, with James Hartigan and PokerStars Ambassador Lex Veldhuis providing commentary and conducting interviews along the way.

Celebrities to play for charities of choice, fans to participate as well

Half of the tournament field will be comprised by celebrities while the other half will be randomly chosen non-celebrity poker fans. The two groups will play separately down to two tables, at which point the fields will combine to play down to a winner.

The tournament is essentially a “play money” event with the entire prize pool being donated by PokerStars. Half of the $1 million has been earmarked to go to CARE International, with the celebrities competing for the other half. Celebrities who go deep and “cash” in the event will be able to direct their winnings to their own chosen charities.

Celebrities who bust early from the Stars CALL For Action event will also be able to play in a side event where the winners will also be competing to win PokerStars-donated money to donate to their charities of choice.

Those watching the livestream will also be given the opportunity to donate to CARE.

As home games move online, so do charity poker events

The idea for the event evolved out of a plan by Hank Azaria to host a live charity tournament in New York earlier this year.

The Emmy-award winning actor and comedian participates in a long-running home poker game with writer Andy Bellin whose credits include authoring the well-liked poker narrative Poker Nation (2002). In late March, Bellin shared the story of the group moving their home game online for The Los Angeles Times. 

It was that experience that led to the pair exploring the possibility of hosting a charity event online as well, and after talking with PokerStars the event fell into place.

“When PokerStars stepped up like that, I was actually kind of moved by it,” said Azaria. “We were hoping they’d put in some money, but to basically finance the whole thing to the tune of a million dollars is pretty incredible.”

PokerStars event follows offshore site’s charity tournament in April

The PokerStars-sponsored event follows last month’s celebrity online poker event hosted by the offshore poker site America’s Cardroom (ACR).

Unlike the global PokerStars site that only operates where licensed to do so, the Costa Rica-based ACR allows player from most US states to play on its site despite it not being legal to do so.

With celebrities like Ben Affleck and Tom Brady participating, the ACR event earned considerable mainstream coverage, with outlets covering the event not acknowledging the site’s “rogue” status in the US. Thus did the ACR event expose how the current “ban” on such sites in the US is more theoretical than actual.

Besides operating in dozens of countries via its global dot-com site and other country-specific sites, PokerStars currently operates legal online poker sites in the US in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

It will be interesting to see what kind of coverage the Stars CALL For Action event receives and how that coverage compares to the ACR event in April.

- Martin Harris is a writer and teacher who has reported on poker, online gambling, and sports betting since the mid-2000s. Once a full-time academic (Ph.D., English), he currently teaches part-time in the American Studies program at UNC Charlotte. His book Poker & Pop Culture was published by D&B Books in 2019.
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