Just one year ago, Sean Sananikone faced a layoff when the factory where he worked announced it would close due to the economic recession. The Laos native and father of three took a chance on a dream and played the Heartland Poker Tour at Downstream Casino Resort. After beating out a sellout field topping four hundred players, Sananikone was awarded $127,404.
“This is so great,” beamed Sananikone, as he held the bundles of cash. “This couldn’t have come at a better time for me and my family.”
At each stop on the tour, producers of Heartland Poker Tour invite local residents to compete for a chance to play on TV and win a substantial cash prize. Of the 292 poker enthusiasts who played the Main Event when the HPT returned to Downstream in October, five of the final six to make it to the televised set were from the four-state area: Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas.
Heartland Poker Tour Executive Producer Greg Lang hopes for a similar success story when the HPT returns to Downstream Jan. 21-31. “It’s the Cinderella story that makes our show compelling,” Lang says, “At every stop on our tour, regular people win.” A typical first-place prize on the HPT is six figures, with players entering for as little as $45.
October’s third-place finisher Gil George, 63, and his wife, Kim, traveled from Texas for the tournament. The $24,414 prize money was worth the trip for the commercial real estate agent, especially considering his wife recently lost her job. Max Bock, 30, of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, agrees, “It’s an easy way to make a living.” The preschool-teacher-turned-poker-pro made it look easy Sunday night, earning $18,989 in fourth place.
Another ambitious player, 33-year-old Huey Long of Springfield, Missouri, said, “I want to win at everything,” With a lifelong love of competition, Long joked that he turned to poker when he “got too fat and old for sports.” Finishing fifth, the $16,276 he won on national TV now outshines his college basketball glory. “Besides the life-changing money, it’s also the chance to play on TV that entices people to come out and play,” says Lang. The widely-distributed Heartland Poker Tour is available in over 100 million US homes, throughout Europe, and the Caribbean, airing locally on KFJX Fox 14 Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m.
Filming will take place at approximately 5 p.m. on Jan. 31, with many opportunities to earn a seat at the final table through qualifying events starting on the Jan. 21. Anyone interested in viewing the taping may claim a seat in the audience by arriving at Downstream by 5 p.m. on the Jan. 31. Structures and schedules can be found at heartlandpokertour.com.