Buddhist poker player wins $600G, donates all to charity

A Canadian Buddhist poker player is being hailed as the “people’s hero” after vowing to give away more than a half million dollars in prize money from a high-stakes gambling tournament in the Bahamas.

Scott Wellenbach, who came in third at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event in the Bahamas, won $671.240 – and he’s donating it all to charity.

“Being a practitioner of Buddhism, we sit around and meditate a lot – and that’s free,” he told the BBC.

The 67-year-old says he balances being a Buddhist and the adrenaline rush of gambling “with great difficulty” and he credits his religion for helping up his game.

“When you practice meditation and develop the qualities of mindfulness and awareness, you become friends with yourself,” he told PokerNews.com in the past. “You become more accustomed to all of those thoughts and emotions that course through our mind and often take control of us, emotionally or psychologically. As you become familiar with what’s going on with you, perhaps those thoughts and emotions have less power over you, so you can see more clearly what’s going on on the table, and what’s going on with you, and, hopefully, do the right thing.”

He says sometimes deciphering the right thing is difficult.

“The right thing — I would say — should involve kindness, which is always a challenge at the table,” he said. “How do you be kind and still try to win?”

Wellenbach, 67, says he rationalizes making money off others by giving it to charity.

“A significant amount of money is won from people who are too addicted, too drunk, too unstudied, or too masochistic to play well,” he said. “We all have those features within us, but some of us have managed to temper our addiction to some extent so that we can play better. There’s a tension about winning money under those circumstances. I guess I rationalize my addiction by giving away the winnings.”

In the past, he’s donated winnings to Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and several other Buddhist charities including ones for nuns.

As for how his most recent winnings will be divvied up, Wellenbach told PokerNews.com: “I hope that somehow a wise decision happens and the money goes to good purposes and certain human beings or … animals or whatever… or beings with feelings that their lives are eased in some way. We’ll see where it goes.”

When he’s not buying in, Wellenbach works as a translator of Sanskrit Buddhist and Tibetan texts for a religious non-profit.

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