Making a special difference

By Tom Murphy Jr.

Senior Reporter

Smoking, drinking and

gambling is what you will find any given weekday night at Main Street

Billiards in downtown Rochester. As players go through the ups and

downs of casino-style gambling, the real winners are the Special

Olympics and other local charities.

Every Monday through

Thursday night Todd Keplin and a host of other volunteers gather at MSB

to run a charity casino which offers blackjack and Texas Hold’em poker.

There is a $5 entry fee for the poker tournament, which goes directly

to the charity. During cash games, 10 percent (up to $6) of each

winning pot also goes to charity.

Jason Warzybok, a regular player at MSB, said that playing there is a lot like playing poker at the casino.


a little softer of a game, more amateur,” Warzybok said. “But it makes

you feel better that it is for charity. I’d rather play there than at

the casino.”

The only major difference between charity blackjack and the kind at the casino is that all of the money in pushes is donated.

Lisa Morgan, a volunteer blackjack dealer, said that the odds are set to benefit the charity

and many of the players like the idea of their losses going to charity and not just a casino owner.


people just want to gamble and make money but, with charity rules, it

doesn’t happen that often,” Morgan said. “Other people come in because

it’s for charity. I had a guy come in recently with $20. He got up to

$60 but he sat there and played until every chip of his was gone,

because he came to donate and just have fun.”

Keplin said that in the first three months of conducting the event they have raised over $45,000.

“[That amount of money] is huge right now with the way the economy is,” Keplin said.


Special Olympics is based strictly on donations, there aren’t any

government programs that help the Special Olympics so that was a big

help for us.”

Keplin and his wife Karen are heavily involved

with the Special Olympics. Karen is the volunteer director for Oakland

County Special Olympics. They have an 18-year-old daughter, Brittany,

who is a Special Olympics athlete. Keplin said that being so involved

helps him see first hand how important the Special Olympics is for

special needs children.

“We get to see every day how much these

kids appreciate what we do,” Keplin said. “We realize how much need

they have for equipment, uniforms, gyms, soccer fields, softball

fields, everything costs something.”

Keplin said that a lot of the athletes have difficult situations.


have a lot of athletes that are in group homes or foster homes so there

is not a lot of support for a lot of our athletes except for what we

can fundraise,” Keplin said.

Julie Brown, the office manager for

the South East Region of the Special Olympics, said that the charity

casino and other fundraisers are vital to keeping the program running.

She said that it is a year round program that gives special needs athletes a place to learn,

compete and have fun in an environment and be comfortable.


athletes live for this,” Brown said. “This is good for them because it

is athletic and it’s their social event. The ones that do go to school

don’t fit in with the kids on the basketball team or soccer team,

that’s why this so great for them.”

Keplin said that the owner of MSB has not taken any profits from the event.


are bringing in 30 to 60 people a night that he wouldn’t normally have

but for him to donate his share says a lot,” Keplin said. “He is

legally able to charge 50 percent of the proceeds and he’s elected to

not charge us anything. I think with Steve knowing my daughter and all

the things she’s involved in with the Special Olympics, he sees the

money is going to a good cause.”

Morgan said that volunteering for blackjack is extremely rewarding to her, especially after meeting Brittany.


comes up here [with her parents] and hangs out and socializes,” Morgan

said. “Once you know somebody who is actually benefiting from it, it

affects you more. Knowing Brittany has really put a lot of things into