Gary Casiday, a 54-year-old from Santa Maria who has spent the past two years battling a serious heart condition, outlasted 490 other competitors to claim first place and more than $15,000 in the 2014 Central Coast Poker Championship on Saturday at the Chumash Casino Resort.
Casiday, with a mobile defibrillator strapped to his chest and a walking cane by his side, persevered through more than 12 hours of No-Limit Texas Hold’em action and won a heads-up showdown with Lawrence Ramos, 61, of Bakersfield to win the tournament, which was an 18-or-older event.
“I’ve been playing poker for more than 20 years, and I’ve never won a tournament, until now,” Casiday said. “This feels so good, but I’m really tired and I need to get something to eat.”
The champion explained that the mobile defibrillator contains sensors that will alert medical staff at Cottage Hospital if a problem is detected with his heart.
“I’m surprised it didn’t go off when I won,” Casiday quipped. “When I got to the final table, I just kept moving all in whenever I had an ace, and it worked for me. It’s amazing. I finally did it.”
Once the tournament reached the final two competitors, Casiday and Ramos played just a few hands before their final clash. Ramos raised pre-flop, Casiday moved all in and Ramos called, showing a pair of 2s. Casiday was trailing with a suited ace-7 of diamonds, but the flop helped both players — another 2 gave Ramos a set while two more diamonds handed Casiday a flush draw. The turn card was a blank, but a Queen of diamonds on the river gave Casiday the ace-high flush and the tournament title.
“I’ve played in WSOP and WPT events, but my favorites are the Central Coast tournaments at the Chumash Casino Resort,” said Ramos, who claimed the $10,624 second-place prize. “It’s the way they handle everything — the way they professionally run it, the way they treat the players and the goodies they give you. It’s my favorite tournament.”
Joining Casiday and Ramos at the final table were — in the order of finish — Ronald Freeman of Ventura, Nicholas Ronyecz of Goleta, Lakhamsor Cavanh of Santa Maria, Johan Dewitt of Nipomo, Shari Schubot of Santa Barbara, George Cannon of Goleta, Fredo Perez of Oceano and James Schindel of Lompoc. Third through 10th place paid between $5,949 and $1,928.
In the field of 491 players, the top 70 won prize money, ranging from $825 for 11th place to $344 for 70th. Participants paid a $180 buy-in ($160 for early bird registration before April 19) to play in the one-day tournament, which boasted a guaranteed prize pool of $50,000. A $10,000 bonus was added to the prize pool and distributed evenly among the players who reached the final table.
The Central Coast Poker Championship is one of two large tournaments the Chumash Casino Resort hosts each year in its Samala Showroom. Each entrant starts with 10,000 chips, and, after a one-hour opening round, the blinds increase every 30 minutes.
Located on Highway 246 in Santa Ynez, the Chumash Casino Resort is owned and operated by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. The casino’s gaming floor is open 24/7 and features 2,000 slot machines, dozens of table games, bingo, poker and daily cash and prize giveaways.
— Mike Traphagen is a public relations specialist for the Chumash Casino Resort.