"Where that chip money at? I love me some chip money!"
It's the one phrase Sunday night players at the Spring Hotel will probably remember for a long time. It's funny now to hear the players recount the words, imitate the robbers, and have the phrase "chip money" slowly sneak into the local poker lexicon. At the time, though, it was the farthest thing from funny. Because when the thugs who hijacked the Spring Hotel couldn't find the house bank (aka "chip money"), they fired their gun for the first time.
By Monday night, victims of the second Greenville poker robbery in two months were able to laugh about it and deny ever being actually scared or now emotionally scarred. I caught up with some of them Monday night where they were--no surprise--playing poker.
One player was sitting at the end of the table when he heard a commotion at the main entrance to the Spring Hotel. He looked up to see a player's girlfriend with a gun to her head. She'd been walking outside when the thugs jumped her. The robbers, one curiously tall, were all dressed in dark clothes, had their faces covered, and wore latex surgical gloves.
Immediately players recognized the MO. After the robbery two months ago at the Black Stallion, the story of how the robbers made everyone drop their pants had spread quickly through the poker community. The players at the Spring Hotel knew what was coming.
Within seconds they were all taking off their pants and noticing the oddest of details--how many people were wearing boxers versus briefs, what was written on the side of the gun, who was and who was not in the room. One player fumbled with his cash and phone and tried to drop them into his socks. He missed his target and tried to cover his money with his shoe. It worked until the robbers made the rounds around the table and started picking up everything. The player's shoe got moved and his money--a good score on its own for the thugs--sat in open view.
At first, it looked like the hijackers were going to be happy with their take out of the players' pockets. The money split among them, they were going to have a good night without taking any more. However, there was was clearly a leader among the group and he knew the score. He knew how to get there, he knew what kind of money was available, and he knew what to search for.
That's when he said it.
"Where that chip money at? I love me some chip money!"
Nobody said anything. It was likely the players themselves didn't know for sure where the money was. The dealer and the operators were mum. The robbers grew more agitated. The next thing the players would remember was the shot.
One of the operators was already on his knees. When the gun went off, the big man fell onto his chest and didn't move. Everyone--in their underwear--stood in shock.
"I thought, 'Someone's actually been shot in here,'" one player said.
The operator had not been shot, but no one knew that until he eventually turned his head to see the robbers searching the house. Finally, they found the cash they were looking for. Nearly sated, they headed for the door with the money, credit cards, cell phones, pants, belts, and at, as would later be inventoried, at least one shoe.
"Grab that suitcase," the lead robber said. "It looks expensive."
While it was clear the robbers had been tipped to the game and how it worked, they were still laughingly unaware of value. They grabbed a cheap metal chip case and headed for the door. Then, like a scene out of a wild west robbery, one of them fired a final shot in the air and the masked men disappeared into the night
Then began the frustrated inventory. Everyone had lost what was in their pockets. Blackberries full of contacts and months of unbacked-up data were gone. Keys, credit cards, drivers licenses, thousands of dollars, and clothing were all gone. So was one of the remaining bastions for poker players in G-Vegas.
While there is more to this story, it's nothing I can tell here. There's only so much that can be put in a public forum.
By Monday night, the laughter had returned. One player remarked how he expected to be jumpy and still shaking from the night before. Instead, he was just pissed off. He couldn't stop thinking about the robbers driving down the interstate, "thinking they were bad motherfuckers."
While bold, few people would call the robbers anything but opportunists. The cheapest form thievery is stealing from people you know won't shoot back or call the cops. However, bad motherfuckers or not, they got away and put another ding in the local poker community.
"You see my new phone? It's the 2007 Razor," said one player with mock pride at last night's game. He held up a brick of a cell-phone circa 2003, one he had pulled out of a drawer to replace the one he had stolen the night before. He fumbled with the key pad and mumbled, "Takes me ten minutes to send a text message on this thing."
Old school poker players will tell you, it's all part of the game. Getting raided or hijacked was just part of the territory. The old stories told by the Texas road gamblers are fun, legendary, and even a little romantic. However, when people you care about are staring down the barrel of a gun, the romance ends. The idea of attending the funeral of people that I consider friends is not something I consider the least bit fun.
A younger Otis, one with sick ideas of romantic danger and James Dean cum Christian Slater-like violent brooding, might have gotten off on the idea of having a gun shoved in his face and living to tell about it. This particular Otis, however, is much more content to suffer with lower back pain, an ulnar nerve tweak, and an expanding waistline as his bigger physical dangers. That is, this is a story that is intriguing to hear, but not one I want to tell again.
Because, in short, it's just not worth it.