After traveling to more than a dozen different poker runs across the United States over the past several years, I now finally understand why the Emerald Coast Poker Run has such a special place in so many people’s hearts.
For 20 years, the communities in the beautiful northwestern beaches of Florida have banded together to promote and develop one of the most enjoyable, stress-free, welcoming, energetic, and entertaining events in the country. Oh, and there’s one more thing. The Emerald Coast Poker Run—and the surrounding Boat Week events—has raised more than $2 million for local children’s charities and youth organizations since its inception, with a bulk of those funds being raised the past decade as the event expanded with organizational leadership from the Florida Powerboat Club.
Last week, hundreds of like-minded boaters gathered centrally in Destin and Fort Walton Beach for the 20th annual poker run, and the results were the same: a good, safe time for all with thousands of dollars raised for the Emerald Coast Foundation. The total dollar amount hasn’t been made official, but considering the foundation’s primary fundraiser has earned between $100,000 and $150,000 in recent years, it should be in that ballpark again since registered poker run boats topped 150 despite some disappointing weather.
Although it cleared up just in time for the poker run participants to make their way to the 10 stops between Sandestin and Pensacola Beach, thunderstorms and rain managed to put a damper on some of the on-water fun preceding Saturday’s poker run. Still, the enthusiasm showcased not only by the boaters but those throughout the community never wavered. And it makes complete sense. There isn’t another poker run around that consistently raises such large sums of money for local charity, not to mention the millions of dollars of economic impact the event has on the community.
“Economically speaking, the event brings several millions dollars into the local communities over the course of the week,” said Chris Sehman, president of the Emerald Coast Foundation. “What’s nice is the people aren’t just coming in for the weekend, they’re coming in on Tuesday and Wednesday and staying the whole week. Ultimately that’s what this is all about. We want our visitors to be able to eat at the spectacular restaurants, stay at the nice hotels and enjoy the beautiful Emerald Coast water.
Sehman added, “We really do this for… the kids. The money we raise from this event goes a long way. This event would not be possible without the support and generosity of the boaters and the local volunteers, not to mention the Florida Powerboat Club, which at the end of the day is the biggest contributor.”
Stu Jones, president of the Florida Powerboat Club, said the poker run is most definitely a feel-good event for his wife, Jackie, him and the rest of the staff, but it also gives his club a substantial summertime event before the season picks back up in the wintertime with runs in Key West and Miami.
“It’s a win-win knowing that we have a well-attended event that services the club during the slower summer months and that so many people can benefit from it,” said Jones, who has been involved with the event since 1999. “This event is a real shot in the arm for the local community on so many different fronts that everyone looks forward to it all year. And the level of enthusiasm the event creates seems to be contagious—it just spreads.”
Jones is right. Take it from someone fresh from the experience—if you’ve never been to the Emerald Coast Poker Run, move it to the top of your list.
Former Powerboat editor Jason Johnson was an integral part of the magazine staff from 2005 through 2011, utilizing journalistic integrity and experience in and around performance boats to report on all aspects of the go-fast lifestyle. The award-winning writer resides in Southern California and is the executive editor and co-publisher of speedonthewater.com, and writes for Sportboat and Powerboating in Paradise magazines.