Las Vegas Tribune
By Steve Miller
The Great Chip Caper
Chips – Chips everywhere, but none can be cashed! On E Entertainment Television, on a program called "High Rollers," tens of millions of viewers witnessed gaming entrepreneur Bob Stupak win $250,000 in $5,000 "chocolate" chips at a high stakes poker game at the Horseshoe. As Bob and his son Nevada retrieved their forty chips, Horseshoe executives and security guards stood bye watching.
That was in 1997. In the fall of 1998, Stupak learned the hard way that the Horseshoe was not going to let him cash in his chips -- an act that is unprecedented in Nevada. Presently, thirty-nine of Mr. Stupak’s $5,000 "uncashable" chips sit in a glass display at the Tropicana Gaming Museum, and one of the chips is safely tucked away in my wallet.
Why, might you ask, do I have one of Bob Stupak’s $5,000 Horseshoe chips in my wallet? In November 1998, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission came to town. With it came the nationally known opponent of the expansion of gambling throughout the US, the Reverend Tom Grey, the Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion.
I serve as the state coordinator for the Nevada Coalition Against Gambling Expansion Outside Nevada. I was proud to host Rev. Grey while he was in Las Vegas and was honored to have him as a houseguest. Since Rev. Grey made it widely known that he was staying with my family, he received numerous phone calls and visits at my home. One of those calls was from Bob Stupak.
Rev. Grey and Bob hit it off immediately since the Reverend had passed away countless hours playing poker while serving in the jungles of Southeast Asia as a Special Forces officer prior to him entering the church. The lingo and jargon of poker are familiar to Rev. Grey and he used this special language often while communicating with gamers such as Stupak and Steve Wynn while he was in Las Vegas.
On the final day of the gambling hearings, I received a call from Stupak. He asked if he could speak with the "preacher" who was staying at my house. I put him through. Bob invited Rev. Grey and myself to join him at local tavern because he wanted to make a donation to Rev. Grey’s church in Illinois. Just after we all sat down, Bob reached into his coat pocket and produced a brown $5,000 Horseshoe chip, and presented it to the Reverend as a donation to an inner-city Chicago youth group. Rev. Grey gladly accepted on behalf of the youth organization, and joked that the chip was the "Coin of the Realm" in Las Vegas. What happened next is unbelievable in Las Vegas.
Since the Reverend was scheduled to leave town the following morning, he asked if I would take him to the Horseshoe to cash his chip. With reservation, I accepted and we proceeded to Downtown. Upon entering the Horseshoe we went directly to the cashier’s cage. Rev. Grey told the lady in the cage that he had received the chip as a donation to his church from Bob Stupak and that he wanted to cash it while I looked on. What happened next is local history.
The lady in the cage said that she would have to have the approval of a Mr. Perkins to cash the chip. Rev. Grey asked if the chip was valid and the lady clearly said it was but that a casino executive must make the final decision. We waited patiently. Mr. Perkins did not show up, and Rev. Grey and I left the casino empty handed to return the following morning before his flight. This time Mr. Perkins was there.
Rev. Grey and I introduced us to the gray haired man and requested he approve the cashing of the chip. We were about to tell him that the chip was a donation from Bob Stupak when Perkins interrupted and curtly stated "I know who its’ from and we are NOT going to cash any of Stupak’s chips!" He then asked us to leave the casino as he gestured for a security guard. We left promptly.
Upon arriving at the airport, Rev. Grey asked me to hold on to the chip until such time that the Nevada Gaming Control Board sees fit to enforce their own laws and force the Horseshoe to honor their own chips. He departed saying that this only proved that National Gambling Impact Study Commissioner and former Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman Bill Bible’s hype about Nevada being the "gaming regulation role model" was totally without credibility
This chip caper soon became national news thanks to Rev. Tom Grey. Maybe Mr. Stupak, by donating the chip, was only trying to give the rest of the country a clear message about the merits of competitive to Nevada gaming. By the results of the recent National Gambling Commission findings that recommended that there should be a moratorium on the spread of gaming, the Horseshoe chip caper will serve to help limit or slow down outside competition to our state’s only industry.