When you’re at the top of your game, it’s good practice to give back. Sports stars are often among celebrities that donate or join charitable causes, whether it’s through funny dares, like the Patriots’ Julian Edelman being shaved by Ellen DeGeneres in exchange for $10,000 for the Boys & Girls Club of Boston, to organizing or attending full-blown fundraising events.

After the 14th annual Calgary Flames Ambassadors’ Celebrity Poker Tournament amassed $365,000 on February 5, we’re taking a look at what makes the Calgary Flames Foundation so good at promoting generosity that may inspire other organisations. The club’s history and current activities stand on values that are certainly worth noting.

Tournaments So Far

The Calgary Flames hockey team established its Foundation in 1983 with a single purpose: to give back to the Alberta community that supported them so warmly. Education, health and wellness, amateur and grassroots sports; these fields are regular beneficiaries of the Foundation’s charitable efforts. Its activities go well beyond poker tournaments to include celebrity golf events, health training camps, and donations of time and money to those in need. It would be more helpful, though, to focus on one aspect of the club’s initiatives instead of all at once.

The Flames Ambassadors Celebrity Poker Tournament pits the club’s players, coaches and alumni, including the Calgary Stampeders, against hundreds of other celebrity poker players in order to raise money for the Foundation and win some cool trophies. 2017 saw Curtis Steward successfully defend his 2016 title for a Championship ring, belt buckle and jersey, along with $5,000 and two Top Shelf Flames tickets. The $415,000 raised that day brought the tournament’s overall contribution to the Foundation to $4.3 million, all distributed to Albertan causes throughout the years since its creation.

Mike Cammalleri, Dennis Wideman and Don Cherry impersonator Clark Robertson have numbered among the tournament’s celebrity attendees. While providing the chance to donate some of their wealth to communities that have none, the hype of these events is also in the challenge of facing off against famous athletes in a game of poker, a competition of the mind, not brawn. The Calgary Flames Foundation has been willing and able to continue organizing the annual tournament since 2005, which means people’s appreciation for it has not lessened.

The Tournament Now

The funds raised in 2019 at the Cowboys Casino may not have been the highest in the initiative’s history, but its total has now reached $5 million. Season ticket holder Hung Ngo was this year’s winner with Victor Choy in second place and Flames Ambassador Carey Bracko in third. Graham DeLaet joined in the action, adding golfers to the hockey and football stars challenging fellow celebrities to a big day of poker for the greater good. The impact of the tournaments on the world begins with the fun players have and the proud smiles on the coordinators’ faces at the end of the day when they hoist that coveted check, the ultimate goal of each and every one of these tournaments.

Several charities and programs have received generous gifts from the Foundation. Over $32 million has been invested in such causes all over Alberta. One of the most recent examples is the $2 million donated to Calgary Minor Hockey, which makes initiatives like the Flames EvenStrength Program a reality with the help of Hockey Calgary and Canadian Pacific, as well as the Calgary Flames Foundation. Another $1 million went to the Rotary Flames House. Fun and games are the glamorous sides of the Foundation’s reason for existing. Everything the club does, including battling it out in the rink, is eventually turned into something that will make society and people’s lives better.

Venues of Choice

When it comes to a poker tournament, there’s no better setting than a casino. Cowboys Casino has already been mentioned as the host for this year’s event, with other locations popular with the Flames Ambassadors Celebrity Poker Tournament crowd being the Grey Eagle Resort and Deerfoot Inn.

So, what effect do casinos have on attendees at fundraisers anyway? Entertainment. Pair the factor of fun with any cause, charitable, gaming-related or otherwise, and its grateful recipients are more likely to respond with praise and patronage. Add famous names from the sports and entertainment industries to the mix and you’ve got yourself a fundraiser that turns heads and raises worthwhile profits.

The casino environment is dedicated to the idea of indulging in the best entertainment available. Playing, laughing, socializing: this is the point of casinos, a frequent theme for charity events that aren’t even situated in such venues. Not only that, but there are services like Entertainment Team, whose event-planning specialities extend beyond corporate, private or wedding events to casino fundraisers. Tables and dealers for Texas Hold’em and blackjack, cash cubes and photo booths, DJs and extra immersive accessories; all can be arranged for their clients.

Online casinos are keen to recreate this environment, with sites offering a full range of casino titles while also using real dealers via live stream for games like roulette, blackjack and poker. While online casino operators allow accessibility to these games, the goal of land-based casino fundraisers is to draw a crowd, giving everyone a good time and the benefitting causes the fattest cheque possible. It’s an art that the Calgary Flames Foundation seems to have perfected through its wide range of fundraising programs.

Donating money is a simple yet respectable way of giving back. The $990 million that Nike’s Phil Knight gifted a lucky charity in 2018 definitely distinguished him as a philanthropist to look up to. But, in this day and age, there are even better ways of raising funds. Doing good work should be celebrated, and what could be more effective than people already blessed with fame paying it forward?

Apart from entertainment and dignity, another key purpose of high-profile charity events is to lead by example. Celebrities’ presence alone is enough to inspire their fans into following in their footsteps. Kindness costs nothing, a saying on many lips in the past couple years and one that people are eager to put into action in their own grand or small way. Those less fortunate receiving everything they need and deserve is all that matters.