The Lanier Partners of North Georgia launched their eighth annual Pirates of Lake Lanier Charity Poker Run on Saturday.
The event was overshadowed by a fatal boating accident Friday involving Poker Run participants from Kentucky. In memory of the victims, the event began with a “memorial run” procession of boats, from the Buford Dam to the Gainesville Marina.
Rob Davidson, a Lanier Partners of North Georgia board member in charge of the Gainesville Marina stop of the Poker Run, said, “Today’s event was awesome, but our thoughts and prayers go out to the families.”
Board member Sydney Gordon said that throughout the Poker Run’s history, the Lanier Partners of North Georgia have put a priority on safety during the event.
“We always tell people to stay safe and stay smart,” Gordon said.
In light of Friday’s incident, speed precautions were taken, lowering the maximum speed for participants to 60 mph.
Gordon said despite its name, the Poker Run isn’t a race. Instead, boats follow a path around Lake Lanier, picking up large playing cards. Those cards are used later at Lake Lanier Islands Sunset Cove to play poker against other boats.
Participants have the opportunity to buy extra cards, that extra money going toward charities Lanier Partners of North Georgia support.
To increase safety awareness along the run, participants were given the chance to receive an extra card at the Port Royal Marina if they went through a boat safety inspection with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.
“This is not a race, it’s not a timed event,” Gordon said. “Safety is always our No. 1 priority. No. 2 is to do what we came here to do which is raise money for the kids.”
Since the Poker Run was started eight years ago, Gordon estimates it has raised over $1 million for Hall County charities Camp Sunshine, Camp Twin Lakes and the Hall County Boys & Girls Club.
Based on previous years, Gordon expects the events this weekend to raise as much as $250,000 for charity.
Gordon said that the support from both participants and volunteers is overwhelming every year, people coming from across the nation to be a part of the event.
One volunteer, Craig Martin, has made a yearly trip up from Florida to volunteer at the event for the better part of the last decade.
Martin says that, “knowing what good the fundraising does for the kids,” keeps him coming back to help every year.