Friday, 21st June 2024 00:42
Home / Poker / From a paddock in NZ to the paddock in Las Vegas: Standing in a field winning a Red Spade Pass

The settlement of Pihama, in Taranaki, New Zealand, is about as far away from Las Vegas as you can imagine.

A farming community, five minutes south along the coast from Opunake, Pihama is about 7,000 miles away from Nevada, and a million miles in terms of landscape.  

Mount Taranaki in Egmont National Park

There’s a pub, but no sky-scraping casinos. No highways, but the coastal path offers stunning views over the ocean one way, and Mount Taranaki the other. The population is tiny in comparison, outnumbered by the cattle grazing nearby.

But there is a poker game. And a Las Vegas connection. Or at least there will be next month.


You might have clicked to enter the same AISO for a Red Spade Pass, and followed along intently. And why not? It’s the prize that will send you, and a guest, on an all-expenses-paid once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

But Paul Hunn, a self-employed dairy farmer, hadn’t.

At least if didn’t occur to him at 5 o’clock one morning. Standing in his paddock. Looking at his phone at a long list of messages from someone called Willie Elliott claiming to be from PokerStars.

The cow shed in which Paul Hunn found out he was headed to Las Vegas

Here’s where Paul, 39, picks up the story.

“I’d just woken up for milking. I looked at my phone and noticed that Willie Elliott had tried to contact me through email, text, and messenger. He wanted to talk to me urgently, but it was good news.

“Well, me being me I thought this has to be a scam so asked for a little more information.”

If you haven’t been to one of our events, Willie Elliot is one of a team of Player Liaisons at PokerStars who serve as a point of contact.

It’s his job to make players welcome at events – which he does with aplomb. And in this instance, his job was to convince All-In Shootout Winners that his messages are not spam.

“Willie replied, ‘all I can say is you’ve won… something big, which couldn’t sound more like a scam if I tried’.”

“I looked at this message and laughed,” said Paul.  


Paul carried on with the usual morning routine which, with the help of his wife Cassandra, involves milking 320 dairy cows. Only his mind had begun to drift off elsewhere.

He couldn’t help it.

“I went out of the cow shed and logged into PokerStars and looked at my tournament tickets.”

That’s when he saw it. A Red Spade Pass Las Vegas ticket. It had been sitting in his account for over a month.

“I googled what it was and that’s when the excitement started to build inside,” he said. “My mind started going crazy.”


The cows come first when you’re a dairy farmer. But when all the cows were milked, Paul got back on the phone to Willie.

“He told me that I was the winner of the All-in shoot out and had won an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas Grand Prix. Well, it may not have shown on my face but I was so excited.”

The outdoor life, New Zealand style

The All-in Shootout might not require much poker experience. But Paul is a regular at his local pub game. Even as a working farmer working agricultural hours, with early starts. And two young kids to raise.

It’s here that his poker career, inspired by watching games on TV, began.


“I knew they played this game at the pub every week so I just turned up and asked to buy-in. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Paul describes himself as a low buy-in MTT player online, with a few wins and second place finishes (including another earned while emailing me his story).

“My best cashes have been second place in the $22 fast Friday and a second place in the $5.50 Daily supersonic.

“My aim is to do well in some bigger tournaments like the Sunday Million and other special events run by PokerStars. And maybe one day the WSOP Main Event.”


The challenge, like that of a lot of people, is fitting in a hobby like poker around a busy day job. Or a busy morning, day, and night job, as farming can sometimes be.

“I go to the shed about 4.45am set up for milking and head off for the cows,” explains Paul, who started farming after he left school and found he had a knack for it.  

“We start cupping about 5.30am and leave the shed around 7.45am.

“Cassandra heads home to get kids ready for school. I lock the cows away and put up a few break fences before heading home for breakfast and to say goodbye to kids at about 8.30am.

“Then I go back to feed out maize to cows and feed out silage bales, shift irrigation and other fences ready for the night milking and next morning milking.

“A few other jobs then home for lunch.

“Back to get cows at around 2pm for 3pm start and finish work around 5.30pm.

“It is much busier than this during calving time when I can do up to 16-hour days.

“The hardest part… is dealing with the weather. And sick cows, when you lose animals you care about.”


The pub game, at the Club Hotel in Opunake, offers some relief from a busy day in the outdoors.

“We normally have around 8-10 people. Sometimes two tables. We play $30 buy-in with unlimited rebuys for first hour so the pot builds up nicely.

Sunset over the South Taranaki straight

“We also run a 10-week competition with a final at the end. And good feed supplied by the owner who also loves playing.

“The people are great and it’s just a fun night of poker, laughs and a few drinks.”


While Paul’s dream is to one day play the World Series in Las Vegas, part of that dream will spark into life this November.

“Going to Vegas… to experience it like this is so exciting. And the best part was it was for two people. So as soon as we ended the call my wife and I started jumping around celebrating saying ‘we’re going to Vegas Baby’.

“I’d like to Thank PokerStars and Oracle Red Bull Racing for giving me this experience of a lifetime.” 

And the cows? They’ll be well looked after.

The cows are going to be fine.

“We have asked two very experienced retired farmers to look after the farm when we’re in Vegas so have no worries at all about that.”

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