In the Mix: ‘Hawaii’s Big Deal’

Oct. 22, 2010 | 8 Comments

Photos by Bruce Asato /

Pulse Entertainment Editor Jason Genegabus, third from right, joined local celebrities, clockwise from left, Champ Kaneshiro, Charley Memminger, Kaleo Pilanca, Lanai Tabura and Tom Moffatt on Sept. 27 during the taping of a celebrity round of TV poker show, “Hawaii’s Big Deal.”


It may not necessarily be written down, but everybody keeps one of those “bucket lists” filed away somewhere.

For me, there are only a handful of things I can think of — other than the standards, like finding true love, getting married, starting a family, etc. — that I’d really like to do before I leave this world. Some, like visiting the original Yankee Stadium before it was torn down, will sadly never happen.

Another list item I thought would never happen? My mug showing up on TV as part of a televised poker tournament.

I’ve been a poker player of sorts for more than a decade, starting with friendly games in college and progressing into a more serious passion for action once the World Series of Poker blew up on ESPN. I’d always wondered what it would be like to pony up the $10,000 for a seat in the Main Event, or even a couple thousand for one of the WSOP’s other events.

Elizabeth Hata-Watanabe, left, executive producer of “Hawaii’s Big Deal” and founder of The Hata Foundation.

So when Elizabeth Hata-Watanabe got in touch, offering me a seat at an exclusive poker table in a game that would be played in front of a camera crew, I figured this was going to be my best chance of ever crossing “Play in a poker tournament on TV” off my internal list.

Over the course of two days back in September, this columnist joined local concert promoter Tom Moffatt, humor columnist Charley Memminger and funny guys Lanai Tabura, Kaleo Pilanca and Champ Kaneshiro to film a celebrity round of “Hawaii’s Big Deal,” a televised poker show that gives regular Hawaii residents a shot at playing cards on TV and, for the winners, plane tickets and seed money to play for real stakes in Las Vegas.

The players.

For Hata-Watanabe, the poker show is fun and games, but it’s also a way for her to raise awareness about the social issues her foundation is trying to address.

“Having children changed my life and gave me direction,” she said. My family is my motivation and my faith is my inspiration.

“These blessings have moved me to dedicate my efforts to create social awareness and proactive support within our community.”

The Hata Foundation has worked in recent months to provide services and classes at various shelters on Oahu, including the Next Step Shelter in Kakaako. Hata-Watanabe’s entrepreneurial spirit (she formerly owned the now-defunct O Lounge on Kapiolani Blvd.) is also leading the foundation in a direction that will see it assisting groups interested in helping themselves.

One idea that’s being worked on, according to the foundation’s website, is getting the proper permits to build an oven at Next Step that would allow for the baking of energy bars, which could then be sold with all net profits going directly to the shelter.

I’VE GOT to admit, I wasn’t thinking much about the kids when I pulled up a chair at the table set up just a few yards away from iconic Aloha Tower. And Gordon Biersch. And Hooters.

Actually, I was worried more about making a fool of myself on TV — especially with the card cameras set up under each position at the poker table. I’d never sat down and played with any of these guys before, and I was pretty sure all of them except Uncle Tom would have something smart to say about me.

Turns out, “Hawaii’s Big Deal” host Gregg Hammer had more to say to/about me than anyone else at the table that day, which actually made it a little more difficult, since the lack of table talk meant it was harder to coax useful information out of any of them.

I even ended up paying the price for that lack of info at one point, falling prey to an ugly bluff by Pilanca — and I only mention it now because I hope it didn’t make the final cut of the show that makes it to air!

There’s not much more I can say about the actual gameplay, since the tournament will be televised on KHON next Saturday, Oct. 30, at 5 p.m. (That, however, depends on if the third game of the 2010 World Series doesn’t get delayed or go into extra innings.)

Still, with the lineup of comedic talent at this particular table, the card action doesn’t even have to be that great with the one-liners that were getting tossed back and forth as we played. You’ll see me wearing sunglasses in more than a few hands, not because I didn’t want the other players to see me react to their bets, but because I didn’t want them all to see me cracking up at their jokes!

ALONG WITH the scheduled air date next weekend on KHON, copies of the show will be available for purchase on DVD, with the proceeds going to the foundation. Hata-Watanabe said she expects the DVDs to be available sometime in November, in plenty of time for the holiday gift-giving season.

I’m interested to see how this plays out myself — while I can’t divulge who won, or how far any of us got in the tournament, I do want to see how the guys responsible for editing the tournament footage will get all the important hands into less than 60 minutes of actual air time on KHON.

Tune in and find out…

  • Anonymous

    THE most boringest poker show I have ever seen. Bad sound, bad camera work, the dealer takes forever to show a flop, they had table cameras to show hold cards but never show any hold cards, and boring commentary.

  • Anonymous

    Welcome to Hawaii…

  • sjc

    Bush-league and nothing more.

  • sjc

    Bush-league and nothing more.

  • Me

    what locality are those guys a celebrity? kahoolawe? i never heard of any of them

  • Me

    mo better you have LOCAL characters like Chuck E Cheese, the lady in white, hello kitty, the UH warrior, the silver guy in waikiki, and anykine political like Mufi. shoulda coulda woulda. maybe next time.

  • Guest

    This is a unique way to raise awareness for a charitable cause. It is awesome that Liz puts forth the effort to help unfortunate keiki and their families. I wish more local folks would do something about the serious social problems we have here in Hawaii. Good job Liz!

  • The Verifiable Truth

    This show was some sort of scam — maybe even laundering exercise for Liz Watanabe. Watanabe was fronting for some “investors.” Maybe the same people behind her failed nightclub. If you didn’t know, Watanabe was previously the owner of failed nightclub and restaurant ventures. Because she’s such a good Self Promoter (BSer) people thought she was successful but the truth is she wasn’t.  The Liquor Commission busted her repeatedly for serving booze to minors and she hid her financial records from the Commission investigators for four years. (Her husband is a Honolulu Cop).  As it was all about to come crashing down she shut the doors.  But she never let her reporter friends know the truth.  Instead she said she was going to spend more time being a Mom to her kids, do something more family oriented, perhaps a children’s TV show — does that sound like Hawaii’s Big Deal?  After Season #1 she drops Hawaii’s Big Deal and is the figurehead of a group promoting the legalization of gambling.  Then a few weeks later she files Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  But she’s still treasurer for the Honolulu County GOP Committee.  Has anyone checked that groups bank accounts lately?