Poker players raise money for charity at Hampden Kiwanis


HAMPDEN, Maine — Playing poker for Ron Mansell is like going hunting.

“You’re out in the woods and you hear a rustling sound. Now, you might wind up shooting at a partridge or a big ol’ bear and you might take one of them down but, you might not,” the Hampden resident said Saturday. “In poker, you never know what the next hand’s gonna be.”

Mansell of Hampden said that over the years he’s won as much as he’s lost playing poker.

He was one of 21 players who played Texas Hold’em poker Saturday at an hour-long game sponsored by the Hampden Kiwanis Club. It has been holding the tournaments since 2009.

The club holds a game once a month September through May as a fundraiser to support its work in the community, said Keith Ociepka, chairman of the Tournament Committee for the Kiwanis Club.

“We make a whole lot more than we would holding a bake sale or a yard sale,” he said.

Maine law allows these kinds of games to be sponsored by charitable organizations provided it costs no more than $100 per player to buy in and the group holds just two games per month. The charity may charge a small additional fee to help cover the cost of the state license fee.

It costs $103 — cash only, no checks, no credit, no IOUs — to buy into the Kiwanis Club’s game. The $3 goes toward the $75 state license fee, issued by the Maine State Police, and $100 buys a stack of colored poker chips.

Of that $100, the charity keeps $25. The other $75 goes into the pot. At the end of the competition, the player with the most chips gets 50 percent of the pot. The player placing second gets 30 percent and the third-place winner takes home 20 percent.

Players may choose to throw $5 into the “high hand” pot. Whoever has the highest hand that day takes the pot home.

The players on Saturday were mostly regulars that included local business owners and a few Kiwanians. The majority were baby boomers but Ociepka said that players as old as 90 and young as 20 have bought into the game.

Corinth Fire Chief Scott Bragdon plays in Hampden nearly every week because some of those players also come to the poker game sponsored by the Corinth Fire Department.

“I like to see how the other organizations handle their tournaments,” Bragdon said. “We’ve sponsored a game for about eight years and raised about $40,000 for scholarships we give to graduates of Central High School.”

Bragdon said that unlike Mansell, he has not broken even playing poker, and neither man was a winner Saturday.

“I look at it as entertainment,” he said. “I can come here and play for the price of dinner and a movie.”

The prize pool on Saturday was $1,575, according to Ociepka. The Kiwanis Club took in $488 once the cost of the licensing fee not covered by the $3 entry fee was subtracted.

Ociepka said that revenue has fallen since Hollywood Casino in Bangor added table games, including poker, to its slot machines four years ago.

“We used to have twice as many players and make twice as much before the casino [allowed table games],” he said.

Despite the drop in revenue, the $4,000 or so the game brings in annually to support the club’s charity work is worth the effort it takes to put on the game nine times a year, Ociepka, a regular player, said.

The number of licenses issued to charity groups rose from 357 in 2010 to 669 in 2015 after the law was changed to allow two rather than just one game a month, according to James Gass, a gaming inspector with the Maine State Police in Augusta. During that same time period, however, the number of organizations obtaining licenses fell from 52 to 42.

One advantage of being a regular at charity games is that players don’t worry about anyone dealing from the bottom of the deck, Mansell said.

“You never have to worry about anybody cheating here,” he said.


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