Betting on virtual: $51,000 raised at Casino Night

    By Mary Kidwell, The Lantern (The Ohio State University); photo via Instagram @ato_casinonight

    2019 Casino Night via Instagram @ato_casinonight

    A night at the casino isn’t strictly fun and games but rather a mainstay fundraiser for local cancer research. 

    For 18 years, the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at Ohio State has raised money for various causes through an annual Casino Night event, which took the shape of a week-long virtual auction this year due to COVID-19. The event, combined with fundraising efforts throughout the year, raised $51,939 for the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund for Cancer Research — double the amount from the previous year.

    From April 5-11, Buckeye Cruise for Cancer — another organization that supports the Meyer research fund — partnered with ATO to auction off signed sports memorabilia from Urban Meyer and past Ohio State football players. The event also included a 50/50 online raffle where half the money was awarded to the winner and the rest went toward the fundraiser. 

    Zachary Gonzalez, president of ATO’s Casino Night and a fourth-year in finance and economics, said Casino Night is the fraternity’s signature philanthropy event. He said they normally rent out the Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom in the Ohio Union to host the mock casino and a live band. The event typically draws around 750 people and raises around $5,000 to $10,000 of the total $55,000 to $60,000 raised throughout the school year, he said.

    “A lot of family and friends come from around the country, as well as alums,” Gonzalez said. “It’s really just a really fun night of fundraising and getting to see people that you haven’t seen in a while.”

    Gonzalez said this year, the goal was to raise $50,000 between the Casino Night and the fraternity’s other fundraising efforts. The pandemic-friendly virtual auction raised $1,325 of the total $51,939. Additional funds were raised during the year through T-shirt sales, fundraising bingo boards shared on social media and call-a-thons.

    Last year, the fraternity donated $25,000 to the Urban and Shelley Meyer Cancer Research Fund, Gonzalez said in an email. He said the majority of fundraising for Casino Night usually happens in March when ATO members sell event tickets to family and friends, but COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns hindered the fraternity’s fundraising efforts last spring. 

    Hoping for more normalcy, Gonzalez said he started planning for this year’s event last summer by booking a room in the Union, updating previous donors on what the fraternity donated and speaking to alumni for suggestions about fundraising during COVID-19. 

    However, as the year progressed, Gonzalez said an in-person event seemed unlikely, so the fraternity transitioned to an entirely online event.

    “A lot of it was just trial and error, figuring out how to be creative, how to get people to be excited about an online event,” Gonzalez said.