Over 430 celebrities, VIPs and poker superstars went toe to toe last weekend in the 7th Annual World Poker Tour Invitational poker tournament at Commerce Casino to benefit charity partner, The Vine Group USA (TVG).

In the end, professional player Freedy Deeb bested actor Nicholas Gonzales at the final table to win the event, then donated $34,000 from his first place prize to the charity, bringing the total funds raised for the non-profit organization to more than $112,000.

“This event has become the most popular on the poker circuit, and this year’s record field shows it,” said John Griffo, Director of Poker Operations at Commerce Casino. “Everyone loved that they were able to play while giving back. We look forward to making this an even bigger and better element in years to come.”

Each year, Commerce Casino puts up a $200,000 prize pool for participants to win. This year, WPT and Commerce Casino added a new twist by allowing players to “re-buy,” or make a donation to The Vine Group USA and receive additional chips to keep playing and increase their chances of winning a piece of the prize pool. The new element was a hit, with almost 90 percent of the field opting to participate. One hundred percent of the re-buy proceeds will help provide scholarships, textbooks, and technological equipment to academic institutions in various English-speaking countries in Africa.

“This is huge,” said Mekhi Phifer, Chairman of The Vine Group USA. “The funds raised will allow us to complete the Mekhi Phifer Research Center we are currently building in Nigeria, which will service more than 100,000 students as well as neighboring universities. Our goal is to save millions lives by providing the tools for education and the ability to build a future full of possibilities.”

“We couldn’t be more thrilled about the positive impact this will have,” said Steve Lipscomb, WPT Founder, President and CEO. “To be able to give back in times like these is a very good feeling, and what makes it even more exciting is that it was the collaborative effort of hundreds of people who learned about an important cause while having fun and playing the game they love.”

Don Cheadle, Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, Joel Madden, Benji Madden, Nicky Hilton, Jon Hamm, Michael Vartan, Jennifer Tilly, Oliver Hudson, Danny Masterson, Camryn Manheim, supermodel Helena Houdova, Jose Canseco, Ricki Lake, Marlon Wayans, Shannon Elizabeth, Tia Carrere, Lou Diamond Philips, Vanessa Branch and Shanna Moekler were among the many celebrities at the tables trying their hand against poker pros like Mike Matusow, Mike Sexton, Phil Laak, Antonio Esfandiari, Chip Jett, Andy Bloch, Gavin Smith, Jaime Gold and Erik Seidel.

The WPT Invitational will air in two-part one-hour episodes on Fox Sports Net May 24 and May 31. Check your local listings or visit www.worldpokertour.com for more information.

The Vine Group USA is a non-profit organization established in 2000 to provide educational resources to tertiary institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa in order to alleviate poverty and help in building a workforce necessary for a sustainable economic development.

Source: Earth Times

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