Grand Casino Mille Lacs - Onamia, MN Recap

Minnesotan Wins HPT Grand Prize One Year After House Fire

Onamia, Mn – Last February, Minnesota resident Pete Bigelow learned the hard way that his home in Moose Lake was underinsured when he lost everything in a devastating house fire.  Still rebuilding a year later, Bigelow decided to upgrade to granite countertops after winning $63,209 at the latest Heartland Poker Tour event at Grand Casino Mille Lacs Sunday night.

“The fire was traumatic,” Bigelow said, “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

Dedicating most of the past year to rebuilding his home, Bigelow hasn’t had time for poker for several months.  After winning a smaller poker tournament over the weekend, he decided to try his luck at the HPT Main Event.  The last hand, a queen-five against a jack-nine, put to rest any doubt that his unfortunate luck last February is a distant memory.

Sunday’s victory was the latest, and biggest, win in a successful history between the Bigelow family and the Heartland Poker Tour.  Television audiences may remember Bigelow’s son, Paul, who earned a spot in a handful of HPT episodes.   Competing with his son and daughter, Pam, at HPT events since the show’s beginning in 2005, the senior Bigelow took fifth at a final table just last season. 

Asked if the Bigelow’s will continue to play at Heartland Poker Tour events after securing the big win, Bigelow replied, “definitely.” 

“Our viewers love watching a familiar face go all the way,” says Greg Lang, HPT Executive Producer, “It makes a great show.”  Heartland Poker Tour will produce two episodes from the tournament at Grand Casino Mille Lacs, which will air in season five. 

As Hollywood awarded its highest honors on Academy Award night, a few lucky characters also won big on camera in Minnesota Lakes Country.  The coveted prize for the other five men at the final table wasn’t an Oscar; it was cold, hard cash.   

Pro player Lance Harris, from Fargo (the North Dakota city, not the movie), won his largest tournament payout of $18,963.  He finished third when David Mandt’s queen-queen killed his 8-2.    


Stockbroker Mandt of East Gull Lake, Minnesota, invested in a day of poker and walked away with $31,604 as the second-place finisher.  After thirty years of experience in his business, he plans to put the money into savings, citing the state of the economy.

Dodging the economic turmoil since retiring, former Chrysler Corporation Engineer Leon Morford secured a nice addition to his nest egg winning $12,642 in fifth place.  Morford vows to donate ten percent to charity, adding, “My wife, Uncle Sam, and I will fight over the rest.”

HPT officials also vowed to help a deserving cause.  Executives announced earlier this year that a portion of all season five prize pools will benefit the nonprofit group, Disabled American Veterans.  “We’ve learned that our players are typically great people who are happy to help” says HPT Co-Founder Todd Anderson. 
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One popular player among the HPT crew, fourth-place finisher Sam “Homer” Johnson, hopes to use part of his $14,749 prize to buy dinner for on-air commentator Fred Bevill. The Wahpeton, ND, attorney credits Bevill’s work on The Heartland Poker Tour for making him a better player.  A quick learner with just two years of experience, Johnson just couldn’t make a case for his Ace-seven against Harris’s Ace-eight. 


In contrast, the first to leave the final table, Mike Cleaver, says he’s been playing poker “forever.”  Walking away with $10, 535, he doubled his biggest win so far in a poker tournament.  The general contractor from Baxter, MN couldn’t build a decent stack with Jack-Seven against Ace – Eight.  He may consider another attempt to win on TV when The Heartland Poker Tour returns to Grand Casino Mille Lacs later this year, assuming the Bigelow’s are busy that weekend.