By Sean Chaffin
With the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex only a bit over an hour away, plenty of Texas rounders will be in the field this weekend here in Durant. Larry Wright (pictured) battled out here in Oklahoma on Day 1a of WPT Choctaw and has seen the Southwest poker scene first-hand.
Wright hails from McQueeney, about 45 minutes east of San Antonio, and has $1.4 million in live tournament winnings. That includes winning a WSOP bracelet in 2012 in the No Limit 2-7 Lowball Draw event for $101,975. He has numerous other five- and six-figure scores as well, but is still looking to make his first WPT final table.
Wright bagged 99,500 on Day 1a to advance to Sunday’s Day 2 at Choctaw Casino & Resort.
While poker has garnered him some attention through the years, Wright is a man of many pursuits and remains a part-time player. The 65-year-old spoke with WPT.com about some of his interests and business occupations in recent years.
Growing up in south Texas on Lake Austin, Wright could often be found being pulled behind a boat. He excelled on a pair of water skis, on a single, ski, or even barefoot – sipping across the lake on a sunny afternoon.
In his teens and early 20s, he competed professionally and found plenty of success.
“I was world champion in college,” he says.
Wright specialized in “water ski kite flying,” in which skiers are pulled on the water with a large kite strapped to their backs. With boat speeds topping 50 mph, the kite gains left and the skier becomes airborne and flies several feet in the air.
Competitors compete on a slalom course and perform tricks in the air. The sport seemed to have faded in popularity over the last few decades – maybe for good reason.
“It was the most dangerous sport in the world, and I was world champion,” Wright says. “You flew behind a boat and went around buoys in the air. It’s like flying an F-15 jet.”
After graduating college, Wright left his life in the air behind.
Ranching and Real Estate
When not playing cards back in south Texas, ranching occupies much of Wright’s time. He owns a 2,000-acre ranch where he raised whitetail deer and sold them to other breeding ranches trying to improve their stock.
A lifelong deer hunter, he leased land to seasonal hunters but now most of his deer are for show. His grandchildren enjoy checking them out.
“Right now we’ve got Angus cattle,” he says. “I have a ranch foreman, but I’m there two or three days. In fact, I left there to come here.”
Beyond his own ranching, Wright also invests in real estate and buys and sells commercial properties and other ranches. He even owned a trucking business at one time. Not a man to slow down too much, he stays busy between his business interests and life at the card table.
When many Americans think of Texas, the oil business comes to mind and Wright also deals in that industry as well. He has oil and gas holdings on his property and the world of poker recently collided with that part of his life.
At the Choctaw, he’s boasting a “WOPT” baseball cap this week. That acronym stands for World Oilman’s Poker Tournament. The 13th annual event was held at the Encore Casino in Las Vegas on April 24-26 as part of an oil and gas convention.
“You have to be in the oil business to play,” he says. “It was great.”
The event featured a $2,200 buy-in and about 600 players, and this poker-playing oilman knows his way around a Vegas poker table. While he didn’t come out on top, Wright took third place for another nice score.
Playing for a Good Cause
Poker has no shortage of players helping others and offering assistance to charity. Through his years, a particular charity has been a recipient of at least 30 percent of Wright’s winnings.
“One of my wife’s best friends sold everything and moved to South Sudan and joined Iris Global ministries,” he says. “She’s been there now for 10 years.”
The charity was founded in 1980 and provides medical clinics, schools, farming and vocational training, counseling, child sponsorship, orphanage assistance, and more in 20 countries.
The charity recently assisted in relief in Mozambique after a deadly cyclone. The Wrights’ family friend assisted with an orphanage, and that has become an important cause to them.
“Sudan was in a civil war and the orphanage had to be moved to Uganda,” he says. “We’ve been working real hard to help with that.”
Poker in the Lone Star State
As a regular poker player, a major event like the WPT Choctaw so close to his home state is certainly nice. But in Texas, there has been some controversy surrounding the game in recent weeks.
A few poker clubs in the Houston area have been shut down, but others in the Austin and San Antonio remain open. Law enforcement in North Texas have kept some from opening and the legality of the issue remains murky as the state attorney general awaits the result of a lawsuit between two clubs.
“I hope they make it,” he says. “Because it’s a much safer environment than some of the home games. Home games kind of got out of hand in the San Antonio area.”
However the issue plays out, Wright knows one thing: poker is extremely popular in his home state. He predicts it may be an issue in future gubernatorial elections.
Should that legal murkiness be cleared up and poker rooms be legalized officially, Wright sees big things in the state on the felt, adding: “It would be a home run.”
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.