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Seneca World Poker Classic Set to Begin in Niagara Falls

Event Marks Two years of Poker Growth for Seneca Casinos

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It's been almost two years since Seneca Niagara turned its three-table poker corner into a 16-table poker room that, particularly on weekends, often overflows with players testing their patience on a waiting list that sometimes goes 200 names deep.

Low-buy-in no-limit Texas hold'em tournaments run twice a day during the week and three times a day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Single-table satellites with entry of $40 run around the clock. Winners receive tournament chips that can be used toward the buy-in of any tournament, including the events that are taking place starting Tuesday when the Seneca World Poker Classic kicks off.

The World Poker Classic has been in the works ever since Mike Gainey became the director of poker operations for Seneca Casinos in 2004. Seneca Casinos hired him away from the Reno Hilton, where he managed the poker room, after the Seneca Casinos company decided it wanted to expand poker operations at its casino.

Seneca Niagara went from having no poker room at all to the current room of 16 tables soon after Gainey arrived. The casino will soon add eight more tables.

Last year, 17 people qualified for the World Series of Poker's main event through satellites offered at Seneca Casinos. Incredibly, all but four made it into the money.

All but three events at the World Poker Classic cost $330 or less to enter, which was done to keep the buy-ins reasonable so the regulars who made Seneca's poker operations a success aren't priced out.

"I wanted to keep the buy-ins affordable. They're not going to break anybody," Gainey says.

The championship event costs $5,100, and at least a few recognizable professional players will play in it, thanks to phone calls made by Gainey.

Card Player Magazine's Player of the Year Men "the Master" Nguyen will join Layne Flack, Scotty Nguyen, Antonio Esfandiari, and Tom McEvoy in the event.

Linda Johnson and Matt Savage will also be on hand, and Gainey hopes at least 200 players sign up for the championship event so the prize pool hits the magical $1 million mark.

The casino promoted its World Poker Classic by sending out flyers to its regular players and advertising in a few gaming publications, including Card Player Magazine.

It also aired radio spots throughout the Niagara Falls area and as far north at Toronto, where many of Seneca's customers live.

Gainey is expecting enough players in the smaller-buy-in events that he flew in 10 dealers he used to work with in Nevada to Niagara Falls. He also trained many of the casino's employees how to deal. Gainey says casino mechanics, security guards, kitchen helpers, and table games workers volunteered to learn how to work the events.

It's easy to see how contagious Gainey's enthusiasm can be. He's been in the poker business for almost 30 years, starting as a dealer at the Reno Hilton, where he was soon promoted to supervisor.

"[I didn't deal] for very long, because they said I was a terrible dealer, so they made me a supervisor," he says.

He deferred all credit to the casino and his co-workers, saying, "The people I'm working for are fantastic. They're very anxious to make this successful. They give all the assistance that you need."

But Penny Kota, the marketing manager for Seneca Casinos, says the casino's poker success couldn't have been done without Gainey.

"Once the casino opened and Mike Gainey came in, he's the one who really brought us poker," Kota says. "He helped a large group of us underneath him learn so much about the poker industry in general."