Red Rock Casino/HPT Vegas Vacation-Las Vegas, NV Recap
Heartland Poker Tour Invades Vegas, Sells out Red Rock
Las Vegas, NV - Widely recognized as the poker tour for the common man in Middle America, producers of the Heartland Poker Tour treated poker enthusiasts to glitz and glam for the launch of the sixth season of the internationally-syndicated poker show. Flying two hundred players by private jet from Midwestern markets to Las Vegas, the HPT pulled off a star-studded launch and drew a sellout field to Red Rock Casino Resort Spa.
“We didn’t know how the Vegas market would respond to our brand,” said HPT President Todd Anderson, “It turns out we blew the roof off.”
To secure a strong field in unchartered territory, HPT partnered with ExpressJet Corporate Aviation to fly players to the event from Chicago, Denver, Joplin, Missouri, and Fargo, North Dakota. “We know we have loyal players in the Heartland,” Anderson said, “We didn’t anticipate the overwhelming response from the local market.” When the line to register for a $250 qualifier snaked around the casino floor, Anderson realized he underestimated the draw.
Mixing regular followers of the tour with high-profile Vegas-based players was a win-win for the HPT. The contrast makes the television show compelling and impressed loyal players. When the HPT hosted a charity tournament earlier in the week to benefit Disabled American Veterans, Fargo resident Lee Johnson found himself at a final table with poker A-listers Kathy Liebert and Dennis Phillips, as well as actor Lou Diamond Phillips. “This is amazing,” Johnson said of his red carpet vacation at the five-star resort to play against the rich and famous. A local seventy-something granny, Rita Jaraczeski, went on to win that event heads up against Kathy Liebert, the most-winning woman of poker.
Matt Hyland can relate. The Brainerd, Minnesota man won an HPT championship in 2009 and jumped at the chance to take a private jet to Red Rock for another attempt to raise his poker profile. He beat out poker giants in the field, from old school legends to the new generation of internet wizkids such as Maven VT mastermind David Chicotsky and four-time WSOP bracelet winner Tom McEvoy. Hyland ultimately found himself seated next to accomplished pro David Singer as the field narrowed. A member of the final table the year Chris Moneymaker changed the landscape of poker, Singer advanced to the HPT televised set Sunday, while Hyland just missed it in seventh place.
Ultimately, the event belonged to unemployed refugee Kimbo Ung. The 41-year-old Cambodian native rose to the top of the field of 443, taking home $125,901. More experienced with cash games than tournament play, Ung’s wife encouraged him to invest 250 dollars in a qualifier buy-in. Producers of the show were pleased with the first champ of season six. “Even in glamorous Las Vegas, we were able to accomplish our mission of awarding life-changing money to everyday people,” said Executive Producer Greg Lang.
The weeklong event was branded as the launch of the HPT’s six season. Once underway, the event also morphed into a celebration of five years on TV. “Five years in this business is a major accomplishment, “said Anderson, “We’ve worked hard to earn our credibility and we love where we are now.” The HPT hosted a VIP party for 300 fans, players, and casino partners at Red Rock’s exclusive Cherry nightclub to kick off the week. “Red Rock rolled out the red carpet for us,” Anderson said, “and we’re all considering our time in Vegas a monster success.”