Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chipmunk Chronicles

Sharon Wildwind

Even with the smoke-free legislation removing their killing ambiance, I’m not a big casino fan. The week I was in Las Vegas I didn’t play a single slot machine, my one gambling weakness.

In a recent moment of inattention, I offered to work a casino shift for a local arts group.

In Alberta, the Gaming and Liquor Commission, part of the Provincial Government, uses gambling profits to support twenty-five types of groups, ranging from agricultural fairs to youth groups. Non-profit arts groups (visual, literary, media, and performing arts) that are actively involved in encouraging public participation in the arts or who operate public facilities, such as theatres, can apply for gambling proceeds to support their organization.

In other words, the provincial government relies on gambling to help them fund activities that they are mandated by law to support.

Some proceeds come from group-sponsored activities such as bingo nights or raffles, but the biggest money-maker is casino nights. The two largest cities—Edmonton and Calgary—and some of the smaller cities have licensed casinos. In Calgary, there are seven. In exchange for supplying volunteer labor to work backstage, as it were, at one of these seven casinos, the non-profit group gets a share of the money, not just for the night they work, but for the entire quarter in which they volunteered.

We’re talking big bucks here.

Volunteers can act as general manages, bankers, cashiers, count room supervisors and staff, and chip runners. That’s me, #1 chip runner, or as I preferred to call myself for the one night, the #1 Chipmunk.

When I said I’d do this, I had a vague notion that I’d be in a bingo hall somewhere, but it turned out to be much, much more complicated.

First of all, there was a dress code: casual, but no torn or immodest apparel. Name tag must be worn at all times, and photo ID must be presented upon request. I opted for black pants, white T-shirt and quilted African-fabric vest.

Then there were the roles and rules. I was, you might say, in the chips. My roles were to help open and close the tables, transfer chips from the banker to the games table and credits from the game tables to the banker, verify the accuracy of the transactions, witness chip counts, and assist the general manager during the pull of drop boxes.

The rules?
Arrive on time.
Work only my assigned position.
No gambling at the site on the day of the event.
No liquor or illicit substances during the event.
Don’t have any gaming chips in your possession.

The perks? Access to a hospitality room equipped with a TV, microwave, and fridge. Access to a private washroom. Free food and coffee.

The warnings from people who had done this before? Wear comfortable shoes. Bring a book, because you are going to be oh, so bored for at least part of the time. Oh, yes, be prepared to stay until 3:00 AM. On what planet does it make sense to gamble until 3:00 AM?

Boy, were those people right. Me and #2 Chipmunk spent most of the evening and early morning sitting in the hospitality room, waiting for the phone to ring. He read a book and played with his cell phone. I watched a lot of TV with the sound off, so as not to disturb him. I wish I’d brought my knitting.

We each averaged about 1 run an hour, taking locked clear acrylic boxes containing chips to the tables. Each run involved verifying my ID tag; entering information on a hand-held scanner; carrying the box to the table while being escorted by security; handing over the box to the pit boss, who opened the box and added the chips to the table; verifying that the number and kind of chips I’d been given were exactly the same as what the pit boss received; clearing my hand-held scanner; and taking it back to the banker.

On one run I carried chips worth more than my entire salary last year.

Between 2 AM and 3 AM I accompanied the general manager as she pull metal boxes containing cash from half a dozen tables. The people in the counting room said it was a typically slow Monday night. The take was only in the low six figures. That’s one small night’s take for one of seven casinos. Do the math.

Which is why #2 Chipmunk and I had a discussion about means and ends. We agreed we’d prefer not to think about what was happening “out there.” About how many people had spent the entire evening sitting at a video lottery terminal or table. About how fast small bets build up. Did you know that if you bet a penny per line; played 150 lines at a time; and played for one hour, once a week, at the end of the year you would have bet roughly $4,212.00?

He countered with the thoughts that a percentage of the take from each casino goes into gambling treatment programs and that if gambling were illegal it would simply go underground so that the profits would end up going to groups more unsavoury than the arts community.

I wonder, does it come down to a reality that, in these economic times, gambling is the only way to fund arts organizations?

Quote for the week
If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.
~Chinese Proverb


Sandra Parshall said...

The American Psychiatric Assn has defined compulsive gambling as an addiction and therefore a mental disorder. I've always wondered what makes a person a gambler -- is it an inborn trait or the result of experience?

State lotteries are also a form of gambling, and the proceeds fund environmental programs, education, etc. What many people don't realize is that lottery money doesn't *increase* spending on those programs but merely replaces tax money removed from the budget. If a state gets $10 million in lottery revenue to fund education, legislators will remove $10 million in tax money from the education budget. So does the lottery do specific programs any good in the end?

I don't oppose gambling to raise money, but I want to see the revenue used to increase funding, not merely keep it the same.

JJM said...

You get the same sort of rush from winning at gambling as you get from a really good drug. That's what you get addicted to: the chemical changes in the brain. It's as inborn as, say, alcoholism.

If you don't have the "gambling gene", so to speak, and see spending $X on a day's gambling as the equivalent of spending that same $X on a couple of good seats at the opera, plus a fancy supper at a good restaurant -- i.e. as buying $X's worth of time enjoying yourself -- you're fine. If it ever ever ever gets to be about the money, or about winning, or about continuing to play because next time you'll surely win and recoup your losses, that's a bad sign.

And I find it appalling that funding for the arts isn't on a sounder basis. I agree: the money should be on top of, not instead of, the tax money already allocated.--Mario

Anonymous said...

It's the same in Alberta. Whatever goes to the arts, and to the other groups, is considered covered and taken out of the provincial budget. In my humble opinion, not a good system at all.