Ante Up for Africa: Raising money and awareness with poker

By Mirsada Hoffmann

When the average person thinks about Las Vegas, they probably do not associate this resort city with charity and generous action to support people in devastated African countries. Yet this past weekend, hundreds of people turned up to support Ante Up for Africa, the poker tournament with the sole purpose of raising awareness and funds to end human suffering and atrocities happening in Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ante Up for Africa is a non-profit started in 2006 by Refugees International’s favorite poker professional, Annie Duke, along with Don Cheadle and Norman Epstein. After this weekend’s event, the organization has raised over $4 million, which is used to support organizations working in Sudan, Chad and the DRC.

This is Ante Up for Africa’s largest event yet, since the tournament takes place just before the World Series of Poker main event. On Saturday 80 people paid the $5,000 entrance fee to play in the tournament and hundreds showed up to watch. Some of the more notable players were Matt Damon, Shannon Elizabeth, Jerome Bettis, David Allen Grier, Evander Holyfield, Montel Williams and Brad Garret. Each player expressed their commitment to the cause and reiterated the need for both advocacy and direct services to support those most vulnerable in Sudan, Chad and the DRC.

“We are on one planet, we are all intertwined,” said professional player Andy Bloch, “what happens in Africa, does affect us here eventually and we need to spread goodwill and help educate the entire world.” In addition to raising money for an important cause, the event is designed to increase awareness about the day-to-day challenges faced by civilians caught in violent conflict, as well as what can be done to help them.

At the end of the evening some of the biggest names in poker, as well as a few celebrities were sitting at the final table of nine. The final table included names such as Phil Gordon, Erik Seidel, Chris Ferguson, Jerome Bettis and Shannon Elizabeth. It was a nail-bitter, but in the end, professional poker player Phil Gordon won the tournament and immediately donated 100% of his winnings to Ante Up for Africa. Overall the evening was very successful, raising approximately $275,000.

It was a great event, supporting a fantastic cause. We are so thankful to Annie, Don, Norman for their ongoing support of Refugees International through Ante Up for Africa and this tournament. The poker community and celebrities playing for this cause could not have been more gracious and welcoming. Their contributions will be felt far beyond this weekend’s tournament, proving that what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.

Pictured from left to right: Shannon Elizabeth, Norman Epstein, Don Cheadle, Annie Duke and seated: winner Phil Gordon