I laugh. It's the annual casino night at my college dorm. I'm dressed up more than usual - I'm wearing a blazer. Today it's more function than form, though.
The ticket taker isn't laughing, though.
I glance around. The cafeteria lady is watching us intently. A police officer is also watching. I get a little bit nervous. After all, I have hundreds of raffle tickets hidden under my jacket. Each one is banded in 200 ticket bundles to make it easier to find the right ticket when I win a prize. Half a dozen friends are behind me with similar bundles. In my jacket pocket is a master list so that I know who has which tickets.
"There's a dress code?"
"... you can't come in. We know you rigged casino night last year. Is there going to be a problem?"
Man. I get blamed for everything. Sometimes they're right, though.
"No, I'll go."
My friends and I turn around, defeated. This isn't how it ended last year.
One night we sit around on the twenty fourth floor of our high rise dorm on the UT campus. I had the good fortune of being put on a floor with a lot of like minded people - meaning that we all like finding trouble. We made fast friends and spent the spare hours of the day hanging out in the hallways and in our room.
"Let's break into the RA lounge," someone suggests.
We'd been everywhere else in the building - on the roof, in the communications room, the cafeteria after hours, the mail room (where we spent 4 hours sorting all of the spring break mail as a random act of kindness), the roofs of the elevators, and even the study lounge where we barricaded ourselves in and set up tents to go camping. We hadn't yet been in the RA lounge.
We head to the eleventh floor to survey the challenge. Two deadbolted doors with small windows separate us from shelves full of office supplies and disciplinary reports. It looks like an impossible task, especially since my lockpicking gun was recently confiscated, but we notice that the windows on the doors are screwed in.
We go upstairs to get a drill, come back down, and go to work. Exploiting the poor design, we remove one of the windows, reach in and unlock the door, and then replace the window in case other residents walk by.
The snooping immediately begins. The most interesting thing we find is a file full of disciplinary reports. We spend a few minutes searching for people we know in the building, but nothing too scandalous surfaces. Nestled amongst the office supplies is a huge roll of purple raffle tickets. We take a huge chunk of them, thinking that maybe we'll go to a fair someday that uses the same tickets. Not entirely satisfied with the contents of the RA lounge, we leave.
One day our RA, Hannah, is hanging out with us.
"Well guys, I have to go. I'm supposed to get the casino tickets from the RA lounge before we go to setup."
My friends and I exchange glances. We have in our posession hundreds of these exact tickets. Could our luck be this good?
The way the system works is this :
1. You get $10,000 in fake money
2. You gamble it
3. At the end of the night you can trade $10,000 for a two piece ticket
4. One piece of the ticket goes into a bucket for the prize you want
5. They randomly pull one of the tickets out of the bucket, and if you have the other piece of the ticket then you win that prize.
With 700 people attending ticket night, we estimate that we will have about 25% of the tickets in circulation. Not bad odds. Right before heading to the casino night we stuff our pockets full of casino chips from our poker set. Maybe they'll look similar to the ones at casino night.
At casino night people are eating appetizers and casually gambling. We spring into action.
I walk up to Heather, an attractive but not genius girl who lives on our floor.
"Hey, Heather. Look at this."
I procure a chip from my pocket. It's a green chip, which is worth $500,000.
"You already won that?"
"Yep, I have three of them. I'll tell you what - I'll give it to you, but if you win the vacation you have to take me."
There's a vacation prize that isn't tied to chips. Everyone gets entered once. Our chips don't look exactly like theirs, so I figure it's better to have an unsuspecting patsy try to pass them off.
I watch from a few feet away as she sits at a blackjack table. She puts the chip on the table and the dealer changes it without a second thought. Others at the table marvel at her assumed good fortune.
The five or six of us involved in the scheme congregate and distribute the chips. Between the tickets and chips we now have over half of the money supply. We decide that it's better to pass them off at the tables, play for a bit, and then cash in legitimate chips later. We spring into action.
We each follow the same pattern for hours undetected. Hours pass and eventually it's time to trade them for tickets. The problem is that we each have hundreds of thousands of dollars in chips, which could raise flags. We go to the different exchange stations in rounds, swapping only a few each time.
When the exchangers close down we still have unused chips, but most have been exchanged. We have a new issue - our pockets are so stuffed full of tickets that we have no way to know whether we've won or not. Going through all of the tickets looking for the correct number would take too long.
We relocate to the handicapped stall of the bathroom, which certainly looks strange to any unknowing lavatory patrons. All of our tickets are laid out on the floor and we begin to catalog all of the numbers and make slips of paper that tell each person which ranges of numbers they're responsible for. My ears perk up when I hear the drawing starting in the ballroom.
I run back with my tickets and a couple of friends. Terry and Blake remain in the bathroom to finish cataloging the tickets.
"And the first prize is the $50 gift certificate to Serranos... the winning ticket is number 544432"
That's my ticket. I find it, hand it to an uninvolved friend, and ask her to pick it up for me.
"The next prize is a $50 gift certificate to Bed, Bath, and Beyond.... the winning ticket is number 61234"
Al has that one. He goes up to get his ticket. We start laughing hysterically. The rest of the prizes are called out, with us winning half of them. No one is suspicious because different people pick them up each time.
The two final prizes are a $200 gift certificate to the local mall and a parking spot in the dorm garage. We win the parking spot.
"Now for the $200 gift certificate. The winning ticket is number 54416"
We all look at our slips. None of us have it.
"I KNOW I had that ticket," I say.
I start to run to the bathroom to get Terry, but it's too late. He runs out of the bathroom and yells, "I have it!"
The crowd turns and Terry sifts through a tangled mass of tickets. He finds the right one and claims his prize. We leave casino night having won about half of the prizes available. We used the gift certificates to buy things for the bus, and the restaurant gift certificates to eat meals during our breaks in bus work.
So how did we get found out the following year? It turns out that a friend of a friend of a friend was jealous that we won all the prizes. It's too bad because we had thousands of every possible colored ticket preorganized inside our jackets. Our goal was to win 90% of the prizes and leave people wondering. The irony is that if that girl had come to us we would have just given her a prize.
I'd driven by dozens of times and never noticed it. Tucked away from the main parking lot, vines had begun to cover the corners of the building. Pieces of sheet metal were hanging from what once might have been a modern looking building.
A Wheel of Fortune aficionado may have been able to make sense of the remaining letters on the marquee. It probably said "Home Alone", "Kindergarten Cop", and "House Party" or some other movies from 1990.
That's when the movie theater was shut down. It was built on the edge of a hill, and half of it was now a few inches down that hill. The building had cracked apart and been condemned.
We’re supposed to talk about moving today, but instead I’m going to share a little slice of the Buffalo life instead, mostly because the experience is fresh in my head, and because my rambling isn’t as interesting as showing you what you can do in this awesome city!
Niagara Falls is a quick 15 minute drive from Buffalo, right up the 190 North highway. It costs a dollar US (5% discount with Canadian funds!) to get over the bridge onto Grand Island, but you can avoid the bridge and the island by taking the scenic route north on River Road.
The Seneca is on the US side, on Indian Reservation land. One of the valid forms of identification is a Tribal ID, which, I have to admit, I didn’t even know existed! (Chalk me up as another ignorant American).
So, here’s the Seneca: