The Wayward Casino
Now that I’ve retired, I can look back on my days working at the Westward casino and smile, but at the time it didn’t seem funny at all. On that first morning when I started working there I was full of enthusiasm and eager to prove myself. I had recently lost my job as a middle manager for a small chain of retail stores when it was sold and my job was eliminated. It was a position that I had held for the previous twenty years. There I was at age fifty five, un-employed for the first time in two decades, and facing a mid-life crisis. I had a wife, two children in college, a mortgage, a cat and no job. I applied to all the large retail chain stores, but none would hire me. I searched the newspapers, and the internet, still no luck. The only offers I had were for a used car salesman and a Walmart greeter. Then one day I saw and add in the Pennysaver for casino cashiers. I had never worked in a casino before, but I did have experience handling reasonably large amount of cash. I was able to talk my way into a position as a cashier at sixty percent of my former pay rate. I considered myself lucky.
My lead and trainer for this position was a man named Joe Arpine, who had been working there since the casino opened. He had sold his small business back East because he was spending sixty hours a week running it, and he was getting too old to work that many hours. The money from that plus the sale of his house had left him in a pretty strong financial position. He didn’t have to work if he didn’t want to. He did it to have something to do besides watch daytime television. We eventually became good friends. Some of his first words to me had been, “Don’t worry; you’ll never get bored working here, because they never do anything the same way twice.” I had thought that he was joking, but it turned out that he wasn’t.“There are a couple of things you have to learn before I put you in a window,” he told me. “You have to pass the ‘Title 31’ test first, and then learn the casino’s service policies.”
“What is title 31?”
“Federal money laundering laws. I’ll give you the answers before you take the test.”
Once again I had thought that he was joking, once again I was wrong. He reached into the draw of his desk and pulled out a sheet of paper. “Read this, and then ask me about any questions you’re not sure of.”
I read down the sheet of twenty questions, each followed by the correct multiple choice answer circled. “What are MIL’s and MTL’s?”
“Forms we use to report high transactions to the government. Don’t worry about them. I’ll fill them out when they’re needed.”
“All right, let me take the test.”
He gave me another sheet of paper that had the same questions on it. Five minutes later I had scored 100 percent on the test. “Great!” he said. “Now I can tell you about our service policy, how to FNSMASH our customers.”
“Did you say F and smash our customers?”
“No, it’s F-N smash. It stands for fast, knowledgeable, say hello, may I help you, are you having fun, smile, and have a good day.”
“Isn’t ‘knowledgeable’ spelt with a ‘k’?”
“Yeah, but it sounds even worse if you try to say it that way. Most people don’t know the difference. ”
I thought about it for a few seconds and had to agree with him.
“Those are the things they want you to do with every guest that comes to your window.”
“But the first thing is fast. Don’t the other elements make it impossible to be fast?”
“Yes, but that’s still their requirements. A lot of the stuff they tell us to do here is contradictory. That’s why people who have worked here for a while call this place the wayward, not the Westward, casino. Come on, let’s get you some money and put you to work.”
We went to the bank where he showed me how to sign out a money cart.
“The first thing you do is verify that you have all the money the count sheet says you’re supposed to have.” He showed me the paper with the different amounts listed on it. “Check the cart and make sure that it’s right.”
I counted the straps of cash and rolls of coin, everything was correct.
“Now you have to count the straps to make sure that they are right. You don’t want any with more or less than a hundred in them. Have you ever used a money counter?”
“It’s easy. You just take the money out of the strap and put the bills on top. They automatically feed into the machine and are counted. The problem is, the machine doesn’t know if they’re ‘ones’ or ‘hundreds’. You could put the pages of your phone bill in there and it would count them too. So you want to rift through the strap and make sure they’re all the same denomination before you count them.”
“I thought these machines were smarter than that.”
“There are machines that can distinguish denominations and spot counterfeits, but we don’t have any. These were bought from an old Vegas casino that went bust a few years ago. The management here brought them with them, along with most of the other equipment we use. Go ahead, run your straps.”
I took a strap of hundreds out of the cart, rift it, and put it into the counter. It started running the money rapidly, then suddenly hundred dollar bill were shooting out of it and into the air. I looked on, frozen in panic, as hundred dollar bills rained down on the bank floor.
“Oh shit!” Joes said. I heard the sound of laughter from other people in the bank. He hit the ‘off’ button on the machine. “Very funny guys. Who’s been screwing with the counter?” No answer. “O.K., pick this crap up.”
Everyone stopped what they were doing and started picking the money off of the floor. While they were doing that Joe opened the machine and pulled out a paper clip that had been stuck in the rotor. When they handed me the money I put it in the machine again. This time it ran smoothly and counted out one hundred bills. That was my initiation into cashiering.
Once I had verified all of the money we went out to the front line. “Mostly what you have to do is make change for the slot machines,” Joe told me. “You might have to cash a few checks, take in some chips and coin, and cash some coupons too, but I’ll show you how to do that when it happens. Remember to FNSMASH.
It sounded easy enough. I went to the front line and I opened my window. My first customer came over.
“Can I get five ‘ones’ for a ‘five’?” he asked.
I said “hello.”
“Oh, hello. Can I…”
“May I help you?”
“Are you having fun?”
I smiled at him. He looked at me kind of strangely.
“ for a five? This is what’s left of my monthly mortgage payment.”
I took his five dollar bill and gave him five ones as fast as I could. “Have a good day,” I shouted as he ran away from my window.
“Great job!” Joe said.
“I feel like an idiot.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
My heart sank. It wasn’t very busy yet, so Joe started filling me in on some of the history of the casino. “This used to be a bingo parlor before the government legalized Indian gambling. Then this place turned into a goldmine.”
“You were in retailing. Tell me what the three most important things in the business are?”
“Location, location, and location.”
“And how’s our location?”
“It looks like they have almost a mile of frontage on the freeway, a half mile from the off ramp.”
“Right. Best casino location in the state. It can’t help but make money. Do you remember hearing about a court case known as the ‘Vegas seven’?”
I knew it quite well, because it had affected me in my former job. “That’s the one where seven women sued the casino they were working in for sexual discrimination.”
“Right again. A middle manager in human resources got passed over for a promotion and claimed discrimination. She went through her files and recruited six other female employees to join her in her lawsuit. There was a stripper, a cook, a maid, a bartender, a cocktail waitress, and a dealer. The stripper got all of the publicity, of course. It became famous when the ACLU took up their cause. It went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor.”
“Were they being discriminated against?”
“Who knows? It was an old casino, and of course all of the key people were men. It had always been that way. How can you prove that you didn’t discriminate, it’s almost impossible to prove a negative? This was at the height of the ‘feminist’ movement, and everyone wanted to be politically correct. The Court ruled in the women’s favor and decided that affirmative-action was required. They made the casino give them jobs in management, replacing the supervisors that were there. They also won a cash settlement of two million dollars for damages suffered. The effect was that they were running the casino. They managed it for a little more than a year before it went bankrupt.”
“I missed out on getting a promotion because of that case. They told me that they had to put a women in the position I was going to get, to ‘balance’ their payroll.”
“Anyway, after the bankruptcy, the leader of the ‘seven’ talked the tribe here into letting them convert this place into a casino. They put up the seed money from their two million, bought the bankrupt casino’s assets for ten cents on the dollar, and brought it all over here. Slot machines, table games and all. They guaranteed the tribe a minimum of three thousand dollars a month per capita, and it was a done deal. The bingo parlor didn’t net them half that amount. There are only about a hundred members in the tribe, so the guarantee was only for about three hundred grand a month, peanuts.”
“But the ‘seven’ can’t own any of this, can they?”
“No, they get paid consultant’s fees and bonus’s based on gross income for running the place. The tribe owns everything. It’s a win, win situation for everyone.”
I made change for a few more customers. I became aware that two other windows had been opened, but the cashiers weren’t helping anyone. When people went to their windows they sent them over to me. I asked Joe why.
“Those windows are for high level players only. Your window is for level ones. The casino has a five level rating system for its players. The fives are the high rollers. They get anything they want. The way that management figures it, a two is worth ten times a one, a three twenty times a two, a four 50 time a three, and a five 100 times a four. So they’re treated accordingly. If you’re a three or above, you never have to wait in a line anywhere in the casino. So you might have ten people in your line, but management doesn’t want them to use the other cashiers, because they’re reserved. Your line is mostly for bus people, level ones, and unrated players.”
An elderly man came to my window with a plastic bucket full of coins and tokens.
“I want to cash these in.” he said. A woman got in line behind him.
“Hello...” I started my spiel, but Joe interrupted me. Skip it, he said, “I’ll show you how to use the coin counter.” He emptied the bucket into the machine next to my window and pressed start. The coins were whirled around rapidly on a large disk, which sent them into slots for each denomination.. Suddenly a sound like glass being ground came out of the machine. “Damn!” Joes said. He lifted the lid and removed a large token. “Five dollar tokens don’t run, you have to count them by hand.” He removed the offending token and ran the rest of the coins. “Pay him the total on the machine, plus five dollars for this” I did that and the customer walked away with his money.
“These machines are a pain. They’ll screw you up if you’re not careful. Sometimes they read pennies as dimes, or quarters as dollar coins, or visa versa. When that happens you end the day over or short, depending.”
“What happens then?”
“We keep track of all your variances, and if there are too many you get fired.”
“But it’s not my fault if the machine makes a mistake,” I protested
“This is a sum zero game. Every penny has to be accounted for. Since there’s no one else to blame, you’re it. They call it ‘operator error’. Shit flows downhill you know, and you’re at the bottom of the hill.”
The woman came to my window with a rack of five dollar tokens. “Cash these for me,” she said.
“A full rack holds five hundred dollars,” Joe said, before I could say anything.
I looked at the rack and it appeared full. I reached into my draw and pulled out five hundred dollar bills.
“Let me see that rack before you pay her”
I handed him the rack and he looked at it carefully. He started pulling out quarters from in between the five dollar tokens. There was one in each barrel, for a total of five.
“Pay her four seventy five,” he said. He put the quarters on the counter without saying anything. The woman picked up the money and walked away in a huff.
“You have to be careful, people are always trying to take a shot at you, especially when you’re busy.”
A little old lady walked up to my window. She appeared to be at least eighty years old, and looked like the woman that plays the loving grandmother in the movies. “Hello,” I said, getting ready to go into my routine.
“Hello sunny, you’re new here, aren’t you?”
“Well, don’t let the bastards get you down.”
“Um, ah, may I help you?”
“Damn right, I’m not here for my health, you know. I want to change some hundreds into twenty’s, they last longer.”
“Are you having fun?”
“I’m loosing my ass as usual. These are the tightest machines I’ve ever seen.”
She reached into her purse and pulled out a handful of hundred dollar bills. I counted out fifteen hundred dollars.
“You want all twenties?” I asked, trying my best to smile at her.
“That’s what I said. And hurry up, I have to spend all my money before I die. Still have a few hundred thousand to go. Not going to leave a penny to my children and grandkids, the bastards. Never come to see me except maybe once a year. I’ll show them.”
I counted out the money for her and said, “Have a nice day”.
“None of your damn business what kind of a day I have,” she said as she hobbled off to the slot machines.
“Sweet old thing, isn’t she?” Joe said. “We call her ‘grandma’. She’s been coming here almost every day ever since I can remember. She must have gone though well over a million dollars. ‘Grandma’ doesn’t use a rating card though, so we don’t know for sure.”
I was beginning to think that selling used cars might not be so bad after all. “Is it always like this?” I asked.
“Yeah, you have to be able to adjust. Some people can, others can’t. That’s why we have such a high employee turnover rate, about forty five percent a year. Their goal is to get it down to thirty five percent.”
My heart sank again. I didn’t know if I could handle this job.
“The ones that stay do it for the money. The dealers only get paid minimum wage, but their tokes are about fifty thousand a year. Same with the slot hosts. Cashiers get paid more, because their tokes are less.”
“We get tokes?” Nobody had told me that cashiers got tips.
“Sure, they can add an additional fifteen to twenty percent to your pay.”
Suddenly about ten people got in line in front of my window. “A bus must have just arrived,” Joe said. They’ll just be cashing coupons. It’s from Chinatown, most of them don’t speak English.”
I started going into my routine, “ Hello, may I…”
“Skip it, you don’t have time. They don’t understand anyway. Just give them the cash.”
“But you said…” I started to protest, then thought better of it. There were now fifteen or more people in my line.
“Another bus just arrived,” Joe said. People were starting to make angry noises in the line as they looked around at the other cashiers standing at their windows, doing nothing.
“Open more windows!” someone in line yelled. My line kept getting longer as I cashed the coupons as fast as I could without saying anything to the customers. I tried not to look up at the angry faces staring at me.
A supervisor came rushing up behind me and screamed at Joe, “What are we going to do, what can we do?” There were now about forty people in my line. “We have to let them use the other windows or there’ll be a riot,” Joe said nonchalantly.
“But we can’t, it’s against policy, I’ll be fired!”
“We do it all the time. Go back to your office and pretend that you didn’t see anything. I’ll take care of it.”
“I don’t feel well, I have to go sit down. You take care of it.”
“We call her Henny-Penny”, Joe said as she walked rapidly out of the cashier’s cage.
I continued cashing coupons for my never ending line. Joe walked over to the two windows next to mine and told the cashiers to open their windows. He then went outside to my line and started directing people over to their windows. Ten minutes later everyone had cashed their coupons and Joe came back into the cashier’s cage.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” he said.
“But you violated two of the rules that you told me about.”
“Around here it’s ‘another day, another policy.’ In some places the rules are carved in stone, here they’re written in sand. Follow them when you can, but don’t let them screw you up.”
An elderly looking Asian man came to my window. “Good morning, Mr. Chen,” Joe Said.
Mr. Chen started pulling chips out of his pockets and placing them on the counter. There were thousand dollar chips, five hundreds, and lots of hundreds. I looked hopelessly at Joe.
“Mr. Chen doesn’t speak much English. Just stack them five high by color,” he said. “Use you right hand only, so the cameras can see what you’re doing. Then count them out loud.”
I did what he said while he watched me. “Five thousand, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty five, thirty thousand.” There was one black chip left over. “Thirty thousand one hundred.” I said. Joe nodded in agreement.
Mr. Chen stood there patiently smiling at me. “Lucky, lucky,” he said.
“You have to count the money out so the cameras can see it.”
“All three straps?”
He nodded again. I took three straps of hundreds and a loose bill out of my draw and smiled at Mr. Chen, I was about to ask him if he was having fun, but thought better of it. I started counting. Fifteen minutes later I said, ‘thirty thousand one hundred.” Mr. Chen picked up the three straps of hundreds and put them in his pockets, leaving a hundred dollar bill on the counter. He started to walk away. “Sir, you forgot one!” I called to him. He turned and grinned at me. “Lucky, lucky,” he said as he walked away. I looked at Joe, not knowing what I was supposed to do.
“That’s your first toke”
“Yeah, nice start. You see that little black can with the slot on top? That’s your toke box. Put all your tokes in there, and I’ll count them when I close you out at the end of the day. They’ll be added to your paycheck.”
That’s when I decided that working in a casino might not be so bad after all. All you really had to do was turn off you brain and become a robot for a few hours a day. Don’t think, don’t analyze, don’t make judgments. Just do what they tell you to do. I could do that, it was just like being in the army again. So I became a cashier and watched as the money rolled into the casino.
It was management’s policy that each shift had to have a mini pep rally before it started. The cashiers would meet in a hallway and the shift manager would tell them about the day’s promotions and anything else they might be asked by our customers. Then there would be a little ‘entertainment’, intended to boost our moral. At the end, the manager would ask, “What are we going to do to our customers today?” “F-N SMASH them!” everyone would gleefully scream. I never could get used to it. I’m not sure that management ever fully understood the implications of that slogan. Once, as I was closing out at the end of my shift, I heard two of the high window cashiers talking as they closed out their carts.
“I had this old guy come to my window today and ask me for a loan. He said he lost thousands of dollars and needed some money for bus fare home. He wanted to leave me his driver’s license for security.”
“What did you do?”
“I F-N SMASHED him. I told him, ‘here’s a quarter, call somebody that cares.’ That’s why I’m a quarter short.”
They both had a good laugh.
About once a month we would have a cashiers meeting. Everyone in the cashiering department, including the top management, would get together to discuss any problems we might be having. We were encouraged to make suggestions, but people seldom did. I tried to, once.
“Couldn’t we have cashiers from the higher level window call people over from the level one window line when they weren’t helping other guests?” I asked. I got a perturbed look from the head of the department. She stared at me for a moment before answering. I realized too late that it was her policy that I was questioning.
“Hasn’t anyone explained to you the relative value of a lousy level one player compared to a level two or higher?” she asked me. I looked around for a place to hide, but there was none.
“Yes, of course, I only thought that it might speed things up a little and not cause anyone else any problems.”
“It sounds to me like you’re complaining because you have to work too hard, isn’t that true?”
“Um, no, I didn’t mean to complain. I guess it wasn’t such a good idea. Sorry.”
After that I did what everyone else did at those meetings, I kept my mouth shut. Business was so good that after my first year they added a tent to the casino. This was a temporary structure that cost a million dollars to put up. It could hold an additional three hundred slot machines, well worth the cost since slot machines were the most profitable part of the casino’s gaming operations. These were new machines that didn’t use coins. You put in dollars bills and the machine gave you back pieces of paper if you won. What more could a casino ask for?
They were so successful that the casino converted all of the machines to paper. Since the slot machines no longer took coins it became a nuisance to handle them. Customers still brought them in plastic containers, jars, five gallon paint buckets, or whatever else was handy. Some of them saved their loose change for a year and then came in to gamble with it. Unfortunately, the casino had sold all but one of its coin counters after the changeover. That one was located in the bank. The first week the policy was to take the coin as usual. That slowed everything down when the cashier had to go to the bank to cash it. The next week the policy was to take coin from level three players or higher. They didn’t bother with coin, so it didn’t help matters. There were a lot of complaints from the people that did. The following week the policy was changed to taking a maximum of two dollars at a time from a customer. That didn’t work either, but it remained the “official” policy. In reality, each cashier did whatever he wanted to about cashing coins.
Because of the new slot machines the casino had to buy ticket cashers. These were machines, similar to ATMs, that allowed you to exchange the slot machine tickets for cash. Now the casino had a machine that could do what a cashier did, twenty four hour a day, with no breaks. They didn’t have to pay it fringe benefits or overtime. They didn’t have to pay the government social security taxes for it, and could depreciate it. A sweet deal if there ever was one. I knew that it was only a matter of time before my job would be eliminated by a machine.
Fortunately, an opening occurred in the main bank. All I knew about it was that someone had made an error that cost the casino more than two thousand dollars and he had been fired. I had a good record as a cashier, with very few variances, so I figured that I had a chance of getting it. It paid an extra two dollars an hour, so it was worth a try. There were eight cashiers applying for the open position, so I knew that I would have to make myself stand out in order to get it. Most of the “Vegas seven” were there for the group interview, since this position involved handling serious amounts of money. They asked everyone the same questions and judged their answers.
“What does ‘teamwork’ mean to you?” was one of the first questions.
“Working together,” the first cashier replied. The interviewers wrote something in their notebooks.
“Being a team player,” the next person said.
It went on like that until it was my turn.
“The best illustration of teamwork that I can think of is an automobile engine. Each part by itself is nothing. But when you have the sparkplugs, pistons, and driveshaft all working together in perfect harmony you have a powerful force that can move mountains.” I hoped that I wasn’t laying it on too thick, but judging from the expressions on their faces they seemed to be eating it up. They wrote themselves long messages in their notebooks.
“What does ‘communications’ mean to you?” was the next question.
“People talking to each other,” was the first reply.
“Sending e-mails,” was next.
“Asking questions,” someone said. Then it was my turn again.
“If teamwork can be thought of as a smoothly purring engine, then communications is the lubricant necessary to keep the engine running,” I said. They loved it. There were more questions of the same kind, none of them having anything to do with banking or money handling. I answered them all in the same manner. Joe told me afterwards that I was unanimously their first choice.
My first day as a banker was memorable. When I went into the bank with Joe that morning I had to dodge rubber bands that the grave yard shift bankers were shooting at each other. A radio was playing rock music so loud that the room seemed to be vibrating. The floor was littered with the rubber bands. “Slow night?” Joe asked one of the bankers. He looked at him and shrugged his shoulders.
“I need a brick of hundreds!” someone shouted from across the bank. The main banker reached into a draw and pulled out a bundle consisting of ten straps of hundred dollar bills rubber banded together. He tossed it across the bank like a football, where it was caught and placed into another draw. “Don’t forget to give me the paperwork,” he yelled. He looked at my questioning face and said, “I used to be quarter back on my high school football team.”
I looked around. There was money everywhere. One counter was covered with bags full of cash and checks that were going to be deposited in the casino's bank account. A large flat cart was loaded with bricks of every denomination, more than million dollars in cash. Another counter held a pile of at least three hundred loose dollar bills of all denominations mixed together, waiting to be sorted and strapped.
“We’re not ready yet”, the main banker told Joe. “You might as well go get some coffee. Come back in half an hour.”
We went to the employee restaurant, where Joe explained the job of the main banker to me. He had to account for the movement of all of the casino’s assets during his shift. This meant bringing in all of the money from the count rooms, replacing the money in the cashiers carts, keeping track of all of the chips, coupons, checks, markers and other forms of money that were used by the casino. He also had to supply the cash machine bank with all of the money that went into the machines. I had assumed that I would have a standard bookkeeping program, like the one I had used in the retail business, available to me. What Joe told me was that we used a ‘spreadsheet’ that someone had put together when this place was a bingo parlor. That person had left the casino years ago. Other people had just added things to it as the need occurred. As a result, it was an illogical program and no one really understood how it worked. It was basically trial and error. You made entries the way you thought they should be, and then tried to balance. If you didn’t, you entered them a different way. We were allowed an hour at the end of the day to try to balance, but sometimes it took longer. When I questioned the feasibility of using such an inaccurate approach to keep track of so much money, Joe said, “Everything about this place is ‘trial and error’. Trial and error was born here, don’t worry about it’.”
We went back to the bank, and got there just as the main banker was making his final entries into the computer. “Some entries carry over to the inventory page, and some to the balance sheet. Some don’t go anywhere, and you have to enter them manually. When you do that, some will be positive and others negative. You have to figure out which is which,” he told me.
“How do I do that?”
“Experiment. If you balance, you did it right.” He made a few more entries on the computer. “That’s everything, I should be balanced now.” He clicked on to the inventory page, it showed twenty five thousand dollars in red figures where there should have been zeros. “Oh, shit!”
I looked at Joe, “He not really twenty five thousand short?” I asked.
“No, he’ll find it. It’s just an entry error.”
“Let’s see, what did I do for twenty five thousand today?" the banker said, thinking out loud.“Markers? No. Personal checks? No. Cashier advances?” he paused. “ I gave a cashier twenty five grand? Where’s the paperwork for that?” He went scrambling through his draws, finally finding what he was looking for. “Got ya!” He said triumphantly. He entered the transaction into the computer and was rewarded with double zeros. “It’s all yours,” he said, as he printed out the required forms for signing.
While he was doing that I asked Joe why anyone would want to work on the graveyard shift, because the hours were so terrible and everyone looked exhausted
“Most of the women have children in school. They get home just in time to make them breakfasts and send them off, then they go to sleep. Some of the men have daytime jobs as well as working here. Some are college students. It’s pretty much a matter of necessity. But that’s why they’re always tired.”
That day I took careful notes of everything I did on the computer. I noted which entries carried over and which didn’t, if they were positive or negative. I was careful to record each transaction as it occurred, and filed the paperwork for it carefully. I checked everything twice. At the end of the day I was only six dollars short. It was a weird number, because there were no transactions for such a small amount. I thought and thought, and then remembered the two dollar bills. I had taken in three of them from a cashier, but there was no place to put them. Then I remembered sticking them under my cash tray. I pulled them out and entered them into the computer. Double zeros! After my first week in the bank my list of notes grew to twenty three ‘special’ circumstances. As time went by new ones were added and others deleted, but that ‘cheat sheet’ became my means of survival as a banker.
The cash machine bank was the biggest user of money in the casino. Each machine had separate cassettes filled with hundreds, twenties, fives and ones. There were also compartments for coins. There was a separate bank whose job was to replenish the machines on the casino floor as they ran out of money. A computer program kept track of everything, so they knew which machines needed to be serviced. If machine number three was low on twenties they would take the old cassette out of the twenty dollar slot and put in a full one. This usually worked fine, but not always.
One morning as I was walking through the casino on my way to the main bank, ready to start my shift, I notice an unusually long line at cash machine number five. That was strange, because there were three machines next to it that nobody was using. When I got to the bank I asked the machine banker from the graveyard shift if anything was wrong with the other machines. He looked at his computer and said they were working fine. I told him to look at number five, and he said, “damn, the one dollar cassette’s half empty and we just changed it an hour ago.”
“Better have security take a look,” I said.
He called security on the radio and explained the situation. A minute later we got a frantic call from the guard yelling, “Shut down number five, shut it down right now!” The graveyard banker looked at me, his face drained of color, and said, “Oh shit!” He rushed to the computer and turned off the machine. I went out into the casino to machine number five. Some people were hurrying away from it towards the doors. Others were standing around it yelling at the guard, who wouldn’t let them near it. There was a lot of noise and confusion. “What’s wrong?” I asked the guard.
“When I got your call I came to this machine and people were yelling and shoving to get in line to use it. I saw someone put in a five dollar bill and get five hundreds for it. He tried to put in another one but I stopped him in time. That’s when I called you. Somebody screwed up royally!”
That was an understatement. I told the security guard to use his radio and get the machine banker out here with a cart and a new cassette of ones, and to look inside the cassette before he brought it out. When he got there we opened the machine and pulled the old cassette out and put the new one in. I looked at the one we had just removed, the label on the front of it read “1.00”. The decimal point was almost worn off, however, and some sleepy eyed banker had read it as “100” and loaded it with hundred dollar bills. When it was brought out to the cash machine by a different banker it was read as a one dollar cassette, and put in the one dollar slot. The result was five dollar bills being exchanged for five one hundred dollars bills. It cost the casino about thirty thousand dollars. Some people were fired, and the tribe wasn’t too happy about it. So the consultants raised the per capita checks to five thousand dollars a month, and threw in a fifteen thousand dollar Christmas bonus, and everyone was happy again. And the money kept rolling in.
In my fourth year at the casino they decided to build their tower. This was to be a fifteen story hotel, to supplement the two story hotel that already existed. It was scheduled to be completed and opened in one year. I had my doubts about that until I saw that they were working three shifts non-stop on the construction. The blasting for the foundation went on all night, much to the consternation of the level one players whose hotel rooms were on that side of the casino. The floodlights needed to light the site at night didn’t make them too happy either. After that the sound of bulldozers could be heard moving earth everywhere. Then came the noise from the rivet guns as the steel framework went up. It was a very noisy year for everyone concerned, but business was booming.
All of this activity sometimes set off the fire alarms in the casino, especially the blasting. We eventually became used to it and just ignored them until they were shut off. No one got too excited about it. However, one time they persisted. After about five minutes of non-stop alarms screaming in our ears, someone called the bank and said there was a real fire in one of the kitchens, and the casino was being evacuated by the fire department. We locked all of the drawers in the bank and put the cash in the safes, and then we started to walk out through the casino into the parking lot. The wailing of the alarm was much louder in the casino, and people were hurrying towards the doors. I noticed a commotion at one of the slot machines. Henny-Penny and two security officers were trying to persuade ‘grandma’ to leave her machine and go outside. She refused to move. “This machine is going to pay off any minute now, and I’m not about to leave it to someone else,” she said. “Do you know how much money I put into it?”
“We have to leave, we have to leave” Henny-Penny was screaming.
“Get away from me bitch!” ‘Grandma’ replied.
The guards looked at each other, looked at me, and shrugged. We all walked to the exit together, the alarms ringing in our ears, Henny-Penny crying that she was going to be fired. When I turned to look back, ‘grandma’ was putting another twenty into the machine. About an hour later the fire in the kitchen was put out, and we were told we could return to our stations. As I passed ‘grandma’, still at her slot machine, she stopped me. She had a look of triumph on her face. She waved a ticket for one thousand dollars at me and said, “You see sunny, I told you this machine was going to pay off. Ha, ha, ha”
The fourth of July was the first big holiday of the summer for the casino. To celebrate it, which is to say to cash in on it, they planned a big promotion. They called it “The hundred thousand dollar blowout.” The idea was to select one customer at random and give that person the chance to grab as many hundred dollar bills out of the air as they could in one minute. The casino obtained an old glass booth that had once been used on a television show for this purpose. There was a strong fan on top which kept the money flying around in the booth while the contestant tried to grab it. Since that person had to grab with one hand and hold the money with the other, the amount of money that could be captured was limited to about fifty or sixty bills. But they could promote it as a hundred thousand dollar opportunity. As it turned out, my shift ended at just about the time the lucky winner was entering the booth. I thought it might be fun to see, so I stayed around to watch. The winner was a large women, weighing at least two hundred pounds. She had a thoughtful expression on her face as she stood in front of the glass booth. It was a little bit larger than the old phone booths used to be. This was going to be a tight fit. All of the “Vegas seven” managers were there for the promotion, as well as Henny-Penny. There were photographers from the local newspaper, and they wanted to be in the pictures, especially the former stripper. They made a big show of tearing open ten straps of hundred dollar bills and placing them into a basket. A big security guard then picked up the basket and dumped it onto the floor of the booth. The woman entered and the fan was turned on. The guard stood by the door. A blizzard of green bills filled the booth. The woman quickly unbuttoned her blouse and started grabbing bills with both hands and stuffing them into her blouse.
“Hey, you can’t do that!” the former stripper screamed.
The woman kept on stuffing. She couldn’t hear anything over the noise of the fan.
“Get her out of there, now!” one of the managers yelled.
The security officer went to the booth and started to pull the door open. The woman saw him and pulled back with one free hand, continuing to grab bills out of the air and stuff with the other. The guard placed both of his hands on the door and gave it a strong tug. The woman, still holding on with one hand, came falling out on top of him, throwing them both to the ground. “Oh, shit” I thought. The door was wide open, and the fan was blowing the money out of the booth and into the casino.
“Oh my God!” Henny-Penny screamed.
The ventilation system was on ‘high’ for the hot summer day, and it picked up the money and sent it flying high throughout the casino. There were screams of joy from the customers, who thought this was all part of the promotion. They started grabbing the money out of the air. When it got to the slot machine area, people stood on their chairs and pulled in handfuls of it. When it got to table games, people climbed up on the tables to get it. Someone stepped in a dealer’s chip rack and knocked half the tray on the floor. There was a mad scramble as the players rushed to pick the chips up and put them in their pockets. People were crawling around on the floor, picking up bills that had landed. The Pit Boss was yelling, “Close the chip trays, close the trays!” The stripper was yelling, “Turn off the fan, turn off the fan!” Henny-penny was yelling, “Oh my God, Oh my God, we’re all going to be fired!” The security guards were looking at each other, overwhelmed, not able to do anything. It turned out to be a hundred thousand dollar blow out after all, and I was sure that all of our customers were having fun.
The tribe wasn’t happy. The “Vegas seven” explained to them about all of the wonderful free publicity the casino had received, and how great it had been for business, which was now better than ever. Still, they weren’t happy. So the consultants increased their per capita checks to seven thousand dollars a month, and threw in an extra twenty thousand at Christmas, and everyone was happy again. And the money just kept on rolling in.
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