If you’ve recently driven past the previous location of Homewood’s Family Video store at Dixie Highway and 183rd Street, you may have noticed a parking lot full of cars.
Windy City Poker Championship has been hosting events since June 20 at this location for local poker players, and raising money for charity.
Inside the previously vacant building, the clicking sounds of poker chips can be heard. Groups of poker players sit at tables in a space formally occupied by the shelves of Family Video’s DVD and blu ray rentals. The players quietly converse with one another, engage in friendly banter and occasionally cheer. All the while, they play cards and help raise money for charity.
Just like when Family Video was open, Marco’s Pizza can be ordered through a window opening on the wall shared with the adjacent building. There’s a table full of snacks and candy for sale.
Proceeds from the entrance fees currently go to 25 different charities, according to Kirk Fallah, the founder of Windy City Poker Championship. Additionally, some charities are physically present at the events. Players have the option of writing a check to these charities directly, especially if it’s for a cause they really believe in, such as veterans care, suicide prevention or a local food bank.
“A lot of the restaurants we used to host at don’t have the space or went out of business. And right now, banquet halls — because they’ve been closed down for a while — they’re asking for an amount per day that is unrealistic,” said Fallah. “Once I saw the vacant space that I used to come and get DVDs at, I said ‘Hey, we’re allowed to do 12 events under (tax rules). Can we temporarily occupy this space?’ And (the building owner) said, ‘Talk to the city.’ I talked to the city, and we worked out an arrangement to be here through Saturday, July 17.”
Fallah said most of the participating players are from the area. He said players tend to find out about Windy City Poker through word of mouth. According to Fallah, participants appreciate that it’s safer than playing poker at someone’s house where no security guards are likely present, and it’s friendlier than going to a casino.
“Depending on the game that you want to play, sometimes it’s free to play. Sometimes it’s $10. It can range all the way up to $3,000 which is the big TV game,” Fallah said, referring to when the games are streamed on NBC Sports Chicago. He said Windy City has free events on weekdays where if a player orders food from Marco’s Pizza, they get extra poker chips.
“If you come and play here and you refer a friend, you are now beholden to that friend’s behavior or ethics or whatever have you,” said Fallah. “A lot of times, the games where they can cheat against the house, we don’t even offer. And that’s specifically on purpose.”
“A lot of [Windy City Poker Championship’s dealers] have dealt for the casinos. They work at casinos, so they know what to watch for,” said Jerry Hartman, the treasurer of the American Legion post in Blue Island, one of the participating charities. “You can have a shark come in or you could have a cheater come in. The dealer would know.”
“Several thousand dollars are raised every year for organizations through [our] charitable gaming,” said Fallah.