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Poker craze fuels surge
in chip sales

Sep 14, 2004 3:48 AM

The Gamblers General Store was humming along nicely. It had expanded three times in less than 20 years and its wide variety of gambling merchandise was being snapped up at a nice clip. Then the poker craze hit and things got crazy.

"All the rules have been broken with the surge in Texas hold ”˜em," says Wendy Rock, the store’s general manager. Before the surge, she says, "If we sold 5,000 chips a day, that was a good day. Now it’s 25,000 chips a day. You wouldn’t believe the number of orders a day" that come in over the phone and online, as well those that are taken in person in the store at 800 South Main St.

The chips are sold in cases ranging in size from 200 to 1,000 chips with 500-chip cases being the most popular. Rock says the chips, which the store gets from its nearby manufacturing plant, can be customized and "everybody has their own needs" as to what they want to see on their chips. She recalls the surge in poker popularity beginning about the first of this year "and it seems to be escalating and I certainly hope it’s a way of life and not a passing fancy."

Even if the poker craze should fade, the Gamblers General Store won’t be posting going out of business signs any time soon. It does, however, display signs as one of the many kinds of novelty item it offers during its store hours from 9-5 seven days a week. There are signs for the work place —"cows may come and cows may go but the bull goes on in this place forever" — signs that resonate with a certain section of the population - "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result" — and signs that seem especially appropriate for Las Vegas — "alimony — the high cost of leaving."

The store, with its administrative and production building across a parking lot, has about 20 employees, according to Rock. In addition to poker chips, the store has all manner of dice including outsized dice, round dice, angled dice, hundred-sided dice, novelty dice, dice shaped like teeth, and even dice necklaces. The store has an equally wide selection of books, such as those on all phases of gambling including "Casino Gambling for Boneheads," "Psyching Out Vegas," and "Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas."

Gambling fans can also choose from a wide variety of layouts, the green felts that cover the gaming tables, and slot machines, which Rock calls "the ultimate Vegas souvenir." She says the slot machines she sells have a year’s guarantee and "make wonderful banks." The store also offers craps and roulette tables as well as poker tables.

Rock, who estimates that 70 percent of her customers are tourists and 30 percent are locals, says there are some restrictions on what she can sell, such as 32-inch roulette wheels. For those kind of sales she needs the permission of the state’s gaming regulators, and while she will inscribe almost any kind of photo on the poker chips, "we won’t go to out and out pornography."

The Gambler’s General Store’s magazine has a listing of which states prohibit the buying of gambling machines and which states have decided all machines are legal. The states that prohibit the purchase of gambling machines include Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. The states that have ruled all machines legal are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia. The rest of the states have age restrictions for people wanting to buy the machines.

But for right now, at least, the action is in the chips. Without question, "poker chips in (a) carrying case is our best seller," she says.