Nonprofits Raise Money Through Illegal PartyPoker Tournaments

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November 15, 2021

Churches, school boosters and other nonprofit groups are calling the government's bluff, raising big money through Texas Hold'em tournaments that state officials say are illegal, it was reported Monday.

Two years into the nation's no-limit partypoker craze, organizations have found that tournaments are easy and more profitable than bake sales, carwashes or other types of fundraisers, the Daily News reported.

The baseball team from West Ranch High School in Stevenson Ranch made $12,000 in October, for instance, while the Make-a-Wish Foundation brought in a whopping $60,000 in an August tournament hosted by Kings star Luc Robitaille, according to the newspaper.

"It's on TV, people are playing it in their homes, everybody seems to be playing," Joy Holland, development director of St. Mel Catholic Church in Woodland Hills, which held a poker tournament Saturday to raise money for a new sound system, told the Daily News. "I don't play -- it's not my thing -- but I've already been called by three or four parishes. They want to do it, too." But the state Attorney General's Office says most charity partypoker tournaments are illegal, and the organizer could face a year in jail or a $5,000 fine for the misdemeanor violation, according to the Daily News. "California law is rigid and inflexible when it comes to nonprofits and charitable gambling," Nathan Barankin, communications director for the Attorney General's Office, told the newspaper.

Some organizations do attempt to keep their fundraisers on the right side of the law. The weSpark Cancer Support Center in Sherman Oaks and the Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles both held poker tournaments at Hollywood Park Casino, a card house allowed under state law. Big Brothers raised about $25,000, and weSpark made about $30,000 -- all legally.