Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Leaded? Unleaded? Bull Chip

Gambling Can Be Hazardous

Anybody who has seen The Godfather or any of its 2,000 sequels, or anybody who has watched Tony Soprano knows what happens to guys who welsh on their gambling debts. Their lives become, well, hazardous. You know, a guy named Guido or Jelly, or Fatso, or some other musical sounding name either beats the poor sap to a pulp or worse. Those kinds of retributions, so we are told, only happen in the movies but now gamblers have one more thing to worry about - tainted chips.

Years ago some bright entrepreneur had a brilliant idea to make potato chips in Las Vegas and call them "Vegas Chips." They weren't bad as potato chips go but they must not have been that good either because the company went belly up. No horses head, no kiss on the cheek, just poor business practices. Still those aren't the chips that we refer to here. According to an Arizona reporter, there might be gold in them thar hills in Arizona and silver in Nevada mines, but dad gummit, there's lead in the gaming chips. And we're not just talking any old tiddly-wink chips here but the Paulson chips made by Gaming Partners International, the largest chip makers in the world. Their chips might not be as well known as those once made by Famous Amos, but they are used as a means of exchange in virtually every casino in Nevada and most outside the state, not to mention home games and others. Up to 20 million chips are minted each year according to the report.

Word has spread through the gossip channels faster than a 777 jackpot. Some dealers are reportedly terrified that they have been handling lead tainted chips for years. Could this be a plot to get the lead back to China by sending leaded chips to Asian casinos? Could it be the beginning of a new advertising plan by the group that brought us "What Happens in Las Vegas....?" How about "Better Red than Lead." Or could this be all just part of the plan to frighten American citizens take our minds off Iraq?

Yes, exposing the public to unhealthy levels of lead is serious, but we have seen so many Chicken Little "The Sky is Falling" instances that we can't help being a bit skeptical. Gaming Partners International denies that its products are unsafe and experts say the chances of being harmed by handling leaded chips is remote. Whether the response is the beginning of damage control or the real deal remains to be seen, but to some dealers and their union reps, company responses are going over like a lead balloon.

Just exactly what components are mixed to make the chips is as closely guarded secret as the Nieman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe. While most in the casino business admit to some lead in the chips, they say that the amount of lead in the secret ingredients has been reduced substantially. Still the two sides are like two chips passing in the night.

If you want to make a safe wager, bet on the fact that gaming will continue, chips will continue to be used, and some hillbilly in Mississippi will find a lawyer willing to sue the chip makers for millions. But I don't see this as a storyline for a Julia Roberts movie. Gaming Partners International will continue to be a blue chip stock, and the debate will cause no harm to the Chippendales. A little blogging music maestro... remember "Chip, chip chipping away?"

Dr. Forgot

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