Lake Lanier is the “X” that marks the spot for the bands of pirates set to take Hall County’s jewel waterway by storm next month — but instead of pillaging and scallywagging, they’ll be raising funds for charity.
The 13th annual Pirates of Lanier Charity Poker Run is slated for July 15-16, and is expected to draw upwards of 800 participants and hundreds more spectators, according to Lanier Partners President Dale Ozaki.
Coined one of Lake Lanier’s premiere summer events, the poker run is aimed to raise $100,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier, Camp Twin Lakes, Camp Sunshine, Edmondson Telford Center for Child Advocacy and Georgia Sheriff Youth Homes.
The festivities begin Friday, July 15, with the signature Cheeseburger in Paradise lunch and, later in the evening, a welcome party, dinner and captain’s safety meeting led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Natural Resources and Hall and Forsyth County law enforcement.
At 9 a.m. the following day, boaters and buccaneers will launch from the docks at Margaritaville or their own private slip and set their course for the six card stops dispersed throughout the lake at Holiday Marina, Port Royale Marina, Aqualand Marina, Gainesville Marina and Habersham Point.
Each of the card stops will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. except Gainesville Marina, which is slated to close at 2 p.m. to give boaters enough time to get back to Margaritaville to play their hand.
Boaters can visit one or all of the card stops in any order they choose.
The casino at Landshark Landing will be open 5-9 p.m.
13th annual Pirates of Lanier Charity Poker Run
What: A fundraising event supporting Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier, Camp Twin Lakes, Camp Sunshine, Edmondson Telford Center for Child Advocacy and Georgia Sheriff Youth Homes
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 16
Where: Starting and ending at Margaritaville at Lanier Islands, 7650 Lanier Islands Parkway, Buford
How much: $250-750
Registration and info: lanierpartners.org/poker-run
Cash prizes are at stake for the winning natural and open hands: $5,000 for first place, $2,500 for second place and $750 for third.
Prizes will also be awarded to the event’s best-dressed pirates and crew of the best-decorated boat.
Constituting one of Lake Lanier’s busiest days of the year, the poker run is more of a scavenger hunt than a race, Ozaki said.
“It’s not a race by any means; it's a family-friendly event that is charity-driven.”
Prior to the pandemic, which nixed the event in 2020, the poker run was Lanier Partners’ main avenue for charitable fundraising. Since then, the organization has expanded to support local charities year-round via events like the Holiday Boat Parade and a charity golf tournament inaugurated this spring. Ozaki’s goal is to add more fundraising events to the calendar throughout the year.
“The kids that we’re trying to support need our help every day of the year, not necessarily just one weekend,” Ozaki said. “[COVID-19] shed some light on that, too. When all your eggs are in one basket with one event, how tough is it that during a time when they needed us most, we weren’t able to pull off an event to be able to donate that year.
“For so many years, the poker run was just a fun event … and you kind of lose sight of it as a charity. Lanier Partners of Northeast Georgia, a 501(c)(3), needs to be exactly that — partners that share a common interest in Lake Lanier and a common goal to help the less fortunate.”
The poker run is open to boats of all sizes and speeds, excluding sailboats and PWCs.
Boaters can register online by Monday, July 11 to participate.
Registration fees range from $250 to $750 based on the number of passengers, credentials and poker hands provided.
“A la carte” add-ons are also available for lunch and dinner tickets, additional poker hands and commemorative T-shirts.
Tickets to board the Margaritaville houseboat are also available for those who don’t have a boat of their own but want to witness the action.
According to Ozaki, this year’s poker run is expected to bring the largest turnout in several years, with boaters coming from as far as New York, Michigan and Texas.
“Any time there’s boating involved and it’s for a good cause, we don’t have to twist people’s arms too much,” he said. “This is a fantastic way to spread and see the lake, see the different marinas.”
Additional information on the poker run, FAQs, maps and coordinates for card and lunch stops can be found at lanierpartners.org/poker-run.