The final stop of the California Gold Rush series for the Heartland Poker Tour kicked off on Friday at the Club One Casino in Fresno, California. The man responsible for bringing the HPT to Fresno is the owner and president of Club One Casino Kyle Kirkland.
The HPT stop came to Kirkland in a round about way. “I was talking with Greg Raymer about hosting one of his seminars. He asked if I had considered holding a HPT event and I didn’t really know a whole lot about them. He connected me with Jen Mastrud and as it turns out they were trying to put together their California tour,” he said.
“We’re a logical choice in the central valley because we can hold larger events. So it was kind of happenstance talking with Greg and it turned out they had dates available and we fit well with what they did,” Kirkland continued. “For us, we’re known for bigger tournaments. We’re one of the only card rooms in the area that’s set up for that. The tribal casinos aren’t really set up for that – they could if they want, but that’s what we do.”
The HPT deal came to fruition while Kirkland was planning a major facelift for the casino. “We’re in the process of starting a renovation and when the deal with HPT we couldn’t do both at the same time. I don’t want to say we’ve outgrown the place because we’ve been here for a long time, but we’re like a suit that’s been tailored five times,” he said. “We’re due for a new suit so to speak. The business today looks much different than the business did five years ago.”
Kirkland’s early career saw him in the finance business and he found his way into gaming by working with some casinos. “I was in the financial business and one of my customers was the Commerce Casino. I helped them with a couple of projects they were working on in 1994 and 1999.”
“I was always on the fringe of gaming,” he continued. “I was involved with somewhat with some Internet poker sites and that’s how I got to know some of the online poker people. When Club One came up for sale I worked on buying it.”
Kirkland had some familiarity with poker as a customer, he played a decent amount of tournament poker and online poker. But his expertise was on the business side of things. “I financed some other card rooms so I knew the industry – but I hadn’t worked in it per se,” Kirkland said. “Then a friend of mine had a slot machine company that I did some work with and online poker software. I had a couple of my own sites as well. I had a pretty good understanding of what the industry was all about.”
“Club One was a good business when we bought it – the poker boom was in full swing,” he said. “Then we had the financial crisis and the recession hit. So it was a bit more work. We had to work harder for less. Like any of the card rooms we had to compete with the tribal casinos and that comes with its own set of challenges.”
“Our guests come here for an escape and to enjoy themselves. We don’t have white tigers or a volcano, but what we can do is when they come in we’re happy see them,” he said. “Customers know my name, the drinks are comfortably priced, the games are good and people are friendly. It’s more of a social setting than people just coming in to pull slot machine levers.”
The HPT Main Event features three different starting flights with the final table taking place on Monday, October 7th. The final table will be filmed for national television. Longtime HPT commentator Fred Bevill and Maria Ho will call the action.
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