Quapaw, Oklahoma - A soon-to-be unemployed factory worker from Forth Smith, Arkansas is the latest Heartland Poker Tour champion, winning the first event of 2009 at the new Downstream Casino in Quapaw, OK. Sean Sananikone, facing a layoff when his factory closes next month, took home the first-place prize money of $127,404; his first-ever cash in a live poker tournament.
“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.” Born in Laos, Sananikone and his wife have three children.
In what proved to be a record-breaking day in many respects, Sananikone prevailed in what became a marathon poker tournament with the final hand concluding about the same time the sun was rising in the Eastern Oklahoma horizon. Not only was it the longest final table in HPT history, the tournament set another record by seating 457 players in a single-flight main event.
“What an amazing start to our 2009 season,” said HPT Co-Founder Todd Anderson. “Not only was Downstream a wonderful property for our crew to spend time, but we saw that the people of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Texas are serious about their poker. We’d never been to this area so we weren’t sure of the outcome. Having over 450 players was unbelievable for a first-time venue.”
During filming of what will become the 99th and 100th episodes of Heartland Poker Tour, drama ran high in a showdown that couldn’t have been scripted by Hollywood screenwriters. After a sell-out main event, the set was lit and the cameras began rolling just passed one AM on Monday.
The players seated at the final table arrived through luck or skill after a long day of play. Producers of the nationally-syndicated show couldn’t have scored a more colorful cast of winners. Although players from across the United States filled Downstream before 9 AM Sunday, by midnight the field was reduced to six players from the four-state area.
The first player to leave the final table was crowd-favorite George Miller, 61, of Galena, Kansas. Living just two miles from the casino, Miller is a regular fixture in the Downstream Poker Room. After two hours of final table play, he went all in with Ace-9 against Ace-Jack. Walking away with $21,234, Miller considered the best reward to be the opportunity to play on TV. His wife, Barbara, was by his side until the end to share the joy of fulfilling his poker aspirations.
Danny Haley, 55, Skiatook, OK, was a true Oklahoma success story. The crowd sympathized with the man under the black cowboy hat as he came to the end of the trail with Ace-7 against Ace-Jack. However, the professional horse-trader saw a healthy return on investment considering he turned an $80 Super Satellite seat into a $25,481 fifth-place finish.
Also seeing a healthy ROI was fourth-place finisher and father of three, Chad Long, Sapulpa, OK. Winning his way up through a $175 Qualifier, the 33-year-old Chief of Police got robbed of all his chips when his king-jack didn’t hit against his opponents ace-ten. Securing his biggest prize to date, Long pocketed $29,728.
With a handful of poker buddies cheering him on from the rail, chip leader Matt Newcombe, 28, Ada, Oklahoma, eventually went out in third place. A professional player, Newcombe walked away with $38,221.
Pushing into the early morning hours, second-place finisher Jim Jennings found the Heartland Poker Tour event to have an unexpected significance. Jennings, a Vietnam Veteran, was pleased to learn a portion of the prize pool benefits non-profit organization Disabled American Veterans. In a press conference earlier in the week, Heartland Poker Tour officials unveiled “Heartland’s Heroes”, a commitment to raising funds at every HPT tournament in 2009 for America’s disabled veterans. For Jennings, winning $63,702 and helping a cause near to his heart was well-worth playing poker until six AM.