nicholas hopkins

How to set up a Poker Run

Angel, the wife of one of my riding buddies called the other day and asked, "Have you ever set up a poker run?"

My first instinct was to pretend I didn't understand English. My second was to grab a piece of paper, loudly wad it up next to the receiver while telling her, "I'm sorry, I've got a bad connection!"

But, because she and her husband are good friends of ours, I told her, "Yes, I have." Then I asked, "Are you thinking of organizing one?" (I didn't even grit my teeth. My wife was proud of me.) Angel replied that she's thinking about organizing a run, and she asked what was involved. I sighed heavily.

Now, don't get me wrong. Organizing a poker run for a worthy cause can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. It also involves a lot more work than many people realize.

I told her the first thing you have to do is get some help. Find some reliable friends. Not just acquaintances, but people you can trust; preferably friends who owe you a big favor. 

After you've got some helpers, decide on the date of the ride. Give yourself a few months; the work you have cut out for you will take a while. When settling on a date, consider the weather, holidays, as well as the date's proximity to Bike Week and Biketoberfest. It might be hard to attract riders to a poker run, if they're all in, or recovering from being in Daytona.

Early in the planning stages, you'll have to decide the route. The beginning and ending places are especially important. At the start of the ride, you'll need tables and room for the registration process, and at the end, you'll need to host all of the riders for a bit. (Ideally, you should also have some special activities for them, such as prize drawings, maybe some live music, a barbecue or some other type of party atmosphere. The more fun it is, the better your turnout will be.)

Next, you'll have to decide what the winners of the best hand / worst hand and other drawings will be getting. That will of course depend on what you can convince businesses to contribute. Start making phone calls or dropping in on your favorite places and have your best worthy-cause / sales pitch already worked out. You'll want to convince the managers and owners to donate free meals, hotel stays, spa visits, t-shirts, whatever you can get. Tell them you'll have flyers that advertise them as donors and of course their business will be acknowledged as the prizes are awarded. They can even post their own banners and posters if they'd like, and if the host bar will allow it.

The prize-gathering process will probably be an ongoing effort. In the meantime, design the rest of your route and contact those bars. It'll be easy to find places that will agree to participate. After all, they're in the business of selling food and drinks and bikers are generally a hungry and thirsty group (in a very responsible sort of way, of course). Choose stops along a nice scenic route if possible, with an appropriate number of miles between them. Some people want a short ride, others like to spread it out all over the county. Personally, I like a somewhat longer route, with a decent ride between stops.

Once you've got that all set, start advertising. Crank out a nice flyer and make sure you include the basics: how much it costs to register, (include a price for passengers) where and when the registration will take place, when the first bike will go out, when the last bike will be in and most importantly, include some words about your cause and what the winners will receive. Take several copies to all of the bars along your route. Post them at work, on the web, wherever you can find a spot. If your charity has a headquarters, or regular meetings, make sure they have plenty of copies.  If you'd like some military veterans to participate, stop by the local VFW and drop off some copies. Get in touch with the nearest chapter of ABATE and see if they can distribute the notice to their members. While you're at it, join the organization. They're a great group of people and they offer all kinds of safety and legal information, as well as fantastic social networking opportunities.

On the day of the ride, have your team and your paperwork in order. You'll need registration forms, including a disclaimer or waiver. You can find a standard riders waiver on the web. Make sure all of the participants sign one; you don't want to get sued if (God forbid) someone gets in an accident on the day of the ride. You'll need an easy-to-read sheet to indicate the cards the riders have picked and you'll need a good map of the route. Don't forget to have a bank bag or lock box on hand for proceeds and of course, some cash for making change. Someone always shows up with a fifty-dollar bill as their only piece of cash.

Each stop on the route will need an attendant, with a deck of cards and a shallow box or something similar to hold them. As the riders show up, they draw a card and the helper indicates their pick on the rider's sheet. One attendant can work more than one stop, but probably not consecutive stops. Give them enough time to get from one place to the next. Be very clear with the helpers on the locations. I once made the mistake of assuming my volunteer knew that the Fill-N-Station was a bar. He didn't know that and so he set up shop at an abandoned gas station nearby and was very surprised when no one showed up to pick a card. Luckily, the good people at the Fill-N-Station had a deck of cards and a good sense of humor.

At the last stop, the riders will turn in their sheets and someone will have to determine who had the best poker hand. You'll want to have your prizes all laid out and a good system of awarding them. If you've sold tickets for 50/50 or other prize drawings, be prepared to sell some more before you finally draw the winning tickets. Have someone with a nice loud voice, who's not afraid to stand up in front of a crowd to announce the outcome.

Finally… take a deep breath, have a beer and try to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Most importantly, later, when someone calls to ask if you've ever set up a poker run, try not to grit your teeth. It's not good for them.

Copyright © 2018, Nicholas Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.