Among the 1,185 players who showed up to Day 2 of the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas was one player who was quite literally hoping to give it all away.
Thursday afternoon, Scott Wellenbach stacked up his 660,000 chips from his Day 1B efforts and got ready to go back to work. It was one of the top 20 stacks in play and meant the 71-year-old Canadian was in a great position to take home his share of the $29,008,000 prize pool in the biggest World Poker Tour event of all time.
But unlike the other 1,184 players who survived the three starting flights, Wellenbach, the Buddhist text translator, has no plans to pocket even a single dollar – even if he wins the whole damn thing and wins the $4,136,000 first-place prize. By now, you might think that you’ve heard of Scott Wellenbach before, but maybe you just can’t place him.
Wellenbach, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, first caught the attention of the poker world at the 2019 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event where he finished third and donated his $671,240 winnings to charity. He almost pulled it off again ten months later when he finished fourth in the partypoker MILLIONS World Bahamas main event for $650,000.
While that might make it sound like Wellenbach is living the lavish life of a top poker player, traveling the world, regularly picking up six-figure scores, the truth is that he only plays in big buy-in tournaments that he has qualified for via online satellite. It’s allowed him to visit and play in London and Barcelona, and of course, the Bahamas.
It’s also how he wound up in Las Vegas this week. Wellenbach is one of the 150+ players who won their way into the WPT World Championship through WPTGlobal.com. While playing the European Poker Tour London stop, one of his friends mentioned the numerous online satellite events running on WPT Global.
“I went online, and I hadn’t even heard about [WPT Global], but the overlays were incredible. One night I played, there were eight of us. It’s a $500 qualifier for a $12,500 package. That’s like an $8,000 overlay on a $550,” Wellenbach said. “The next night I played, and I think there were 18 of us, and I was fortunate enough to win so that was an overlay of $2,000 or $3,000.”
Wellenbach estimates he played four or five satellites and once he secured a seat it meant he would be returning to Las Vegas for the first time in more than 12 years. Now he’s hoping to turn his $550 seat into a career-high score so he can continue his philanthropic efforts.
He has $1,425,218 in live tournament winnings according to Hendon Mob, but not a single cash has come in Sin City. Navigating his way through Day 2 would put him one step closer to changing that narrative and giving him another opportunity to donate.
“I definitely give away all my winnings and do so in part because I can. I still work, I still have a job, and that pays the monthly bills and I had very good luck investing over the last number of decades,” Wellenbach said. “So I’m in a financial position where I can do this, and so why not? It’s either now or in my will, and at 71, why not now?”
Given that he is a practicing Buddhist and that his life’s work has been dedicated to preserving and improving Buddhist culture, it should come as no surprise that most of his donated poker winnings have gone to those causes.
“The majority of my giving has gone to support, or in one case, to actually build Buddhist nunneries in Asia; in Nepal, in Tibet, and in Bhutan. Well, we didn’t build it, but I helped support it,” Wellenbach said. “I feel that there’s a lot in the Buddhist path of meditation and of putting others before yourself that I think this world could use more of.”
While $600,000 might buy a starter home in some American cities, that money stretches much farther in some of the communities where Wellenbach directed his money to go.
“In Asia, it’s amazing, I took the vast majority of one of my major winnings, and it actually built a whole nunnery. I mean, the bang for your buck, is amazing,” Wellenbach said.
He has also been working with some causes close to his heart in his hometown in hopes of spearheading some action from the local poker community. “I’ve been, locally in Halifax … talking to some of the others in the poker community and not necessarily players, (but) like servers, dealers, and I’ve been encouraging them to give me ideas as to what local charities could be a benefit.”
Being overly charitable at a poker table can certainly lead to a downfall for many poker players, but turning online satellite seats into charitable efforts away from the felt ensures Wellenbach leads a life of riches.