Manitoba Lotteries got to the game late but they are in it to win it.
McPhillips Station Casino will host the second annual Manitoba Lotteries Poker Open, which consists of no-limit Texas hold 'em games played over four days, beginning today. The tournament could be the largest in Manitoba's history.
Players wishing to enter events will have to ante up between $300 and $1,100, depending on the category of competition. If the tournament sells out, total cash prizes will exceed $500,000; 1,000 seats are available.
Manitoba held its first big poker tournament last year, while other provinces have held major tournaments for five years.
The reason for Manitoba's tardiness is murky.
"There were some obstacles we had to get through," said Francis Salazar, poker manager for Manitoba Lotteries. "We didn't have the resources."
Ken Hunter, last year's big money winner, said he was impressed with the first effort.
"It was a feather in the cap of the guys who run tournaments in Manitoba," Hunter said.
"The local dealers are top-notch," he added. "They make it a good time."
In the past many Manitoban poker players seeking a big tournament travelled to Regina, according to Hunter. Things have changed. He said last year's tournament was comparable to any event held in Regina.
Salazar said they've improved the event by listening to last year's players.
"We are offering them a better meal," he said. They also extended the event from three days to four and added an invitational tournament.
People curious about poker or the tournament are encouraged to come to the casino and see what it's all about.
"It's a lot of fun," Hunter said. "There's nothing like it."
Hunter's $56,162 cash prize last year gave him the opportunity to travel to Las Vegas and compete in a senior event in the World Series of Poker.
Lotteries is a latecomer to the major tournament circuit, but Salazar said this has an upside -- it allowed them to learn from others.
"We've watched what other tournaments have done and are trying to make ours the best."
Poker tournaments are usually held at Club Regent but until its new concert bowl is completed in 2013, there isn't room for the expected turnout.
The Manitoba Poker Championship, Manitoba Lotteries' next large-scale tournament, will be held Sept 19-23.