Heartland Poker Tour (HPT)
If you’re a fan of watching televised live poker games and poker tournaments, you’ve probably heard of the Heartland Poker Tour. The popular show was created so poker fans could enjoy watching real games and tournaments featuring poker players just like them.
When HPT began, televised poker was limited to large-scale poker events with exorbitant buy-ins like the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour. HPT offered a more approachable live poker experience with a typical buy-in of only $1,650. It was the everyman’s poker show, and audiences loved it for its relatability. In fact, the show’s tagline was “Real People, Unreal Money.”
Each two-hour episode of the series was filmed in a different casino as the production worked its way through the U.S. Some of the popular stops for HPT events and episodes included the Hollywood Casino Toledo, the Golden Gates Casino in Colorado, Ameristar East Chicago, and the Hollywood Casino St. Louis.
History of the Heartland Poker Tour
The Heartland Poker Tour began in 2005 when poker buddies Greg Lang and Todd Anderson quit their jobs, raided their savings, and started production on a brand-new poker show.
Producing any television show is expensive, let alone a show featuring a full poker tournament, but Lang and Anderson recognized HPT’s value for casinos that wanted to attract new customers by hosting a mini series.
Finding an audience
Initial broadcasting opportunities were non-existent for the Heartland Poker Tour. Large broadcasting networks weren’t enthusiastic about an unproven concept produced by inexperienced showrunners.
The public access television model proved to be HPT’s best option. Lang and Anderson offered new episodes for free to any TV station that wanted it. Within a few episodes, larger networks in Chicago and other cities in the Midwest picked up the show, drastically increasing its audience.
One of the biggest upgrades to HPT’s production format came in the form of announcers Fred Beville, Chris Hanson, and Katie O’Keefe.
Televised poker needs knowledgeable announcers to keep things interesting and accessible. With the right team, good banter, and engaging personalities, even audience members with minimal poker experience or knowledge can get excited about the game.
Over nine seasons and 230 episodes, Heartland Poker Tour had some important and notable moments in the world of poker. Regular people made poker news with six-figure pot winnings and became repeat tournament champions, and the audiences loved it!
Partnership with Disabled American Veterans
In 2009, HPT leveraged its popularity with viewers to help raise awareness for disabled U.S. veterans. A partnership with the non-profit group Disabled American Veterans led to fundraising opportunities, airing weekly public service announcements, and special spin-off poker events with celebrities.
Darvin Moon joins the team
In 2010, Darvin Moon, the runner-up for the 2009 WSOP Main Event, became the show’s first tour ambassador. As a well-known player in the professional poker community, Moon brought even more recognition to HPT’s episodes and live poker events.
Greg Raymer wins for a fifth time
In 2020, poker player Greg Raymer took home more than $170,000 at the HPT no limit hold’em main event at the Ameristar East Chicago Casino. It was his fifth win with the Heartland Poker Tour, establishing him as the winningest player in the show’s history.
Is the Heartland Poker Tour still in business?
With the unexpected onset of COVID-19 and casinos closing across the U.S., the Heartland Poker Tour made the difficult decision to cancel all scheduled events. Initially, they hoped to simply postpone each of their scheduled mini series, but as many other poker and casino-based organizations discovered, a pandemic is a difficult setting to maneuver for face-to-face gaming.
While Heartland Poker Tour never made a formal announcement pertaining to its future or its potential post-pandemic reemergence, there has been plenty of speculation in the poker world.
Quiet social media channels
HPT hasn’t made any new posts to its social media accounts on Facebook or Twitter since July 2020. Even now, as many popular poker events like the World Series of Poker are getting back to their normal (if cautious) schedules, the Heartland Poker Tour remains quiet.
Heartland Poker Tour’s primary website shut down early in the pandemic and heartlandpokertour.com is still offline. Many fans and news outlets took the website shutdown as a sign that the tour is gone for good, but at this point, all such claims seem to be purely conjecture.
Ownership Changes pre-pandemic
In 2011, Federated Sports + Gaming of Los Angeles, acquired Heartland Poker Tour, only to declare bankruptcy a year later in 2012. Pinnacle Entertainment acquired Federated Sports + Gaming as well as HPT later in 2012. In 2018, Penn National Gaming — a company that owns a range of casino and racetrack properties across the U.S. — purchased Pinnacle Entertainment and gave HPT a new home.
Will the Heartland Poker Tour come back?
According to reports, Eric Schippers, Penn National Gaming’s Senior VP of Public Affairs, claimed that the Heartland Poker Tour will be back in the future. He said that though HPT events and filming had to cease due to COVID, the popular program will return in either the same or a slightly adjusted format.
Unfortunately, many of the staff associated with Heartland Poker Tour have moved on to other gigs. If HPT does return, it will need to reassert itself with audiences and professionals within the poker community.While waiting for HPT’s triumphant return, poker fans can always take advantage of old episodes on YouTube and relive the glory days.
Featured image via Heartland Poker Tour Facebook Page