Nightmare at the Border!
by Michael Behiel
Last November, I made a chipping/slot card run to 4 Bears casino in North Dakota. I was having great success gathering tons of chips and slot cards and thought it was going to be my most successful trip ever. In fact, on the day we were leaving, I spotted three 50 cent chips in the drink girls tip glass that I had never seen before, and thought they must be the original chips from the casino as they looked old. I immediately offered her $3 a piece for them, thinking I was getting a piece of gold in each, and although the drink girl thought I was totally insane, she sold them to me. I later learned these were the NEW chips being issued by the casino and that they were only currently available on the craps table, which was why I had not seen them. So much for my rare chips!
Then came Customs. Not wanting to go home, my gambling buddy, Ian, and I stayed at the casino until the wee hours of the morning before setting out on the 4 hour journey home and across the border back into Canada where we live. When we hit the border, we were met by two female Customs Officers, who immediately decided that two males crossing the border in the wee hours of the morning must be trying to hide something and ordered us to pull into the inspection garage. What neither of them realized at the time, was that I had previously worked for the Customs Department, and was in fact, one of the people who had set up the current inspection garages. Never smart enough to keep my mouth shut, I asked whether I should go into the general garage, or the tear down one, which was used for more intensive searches. Of course, this made the Officers immediately suspicious that I would know the difference, suggesting I had been through the routine enough times before to know the difference. My attempted explanation was met with total disbelief, even after I supplied the names of my previous superior officers and coworkers.
Now, as per usual, they separate us and I remain behind with the vehicle. As the officer starts inspecting my car, the first thing she requests is that I open the trunk. Not thinking I had anything to hide, I immediately comply, only to hear "What the heck is this?" YOU will never believe in a million years what was in there. Two days before, I had visited my mother, who lives in a small apartment and she had asked me to kindly dispose of her several bags of garbage for her. Not being able to find her dumpster outside, I had dropped it into the truck to throw out when I got home, and promptly forgot about it. Trying to explain this to the officer sounded like the largest fairy tale ever, and of course, pretty soon there were three sliced open bags of garbage laying on the floor being sifted through. Once it was established that there was nothing of any illegal nature in there (except maybe that old fish which was definitely getting a tad foul), the attention was now turned to the car and its contents.
I immediately offered to open all the luggage etc to try to smooth things over and get the heck out of there already, as we had been there almost 25 minutes by now. Opening my luggage, the first thing the officer spots is all the chips, dice, and slot cards lying in the suitcase. Now, to a non gambler, this looks a tad odd to say the least, and given the fact that things were not already going smoothly, you can imagine where this went. Explaining all the details of "chipping" to her was totally pointless. She immediately snatched everything up and accused me of theft from the casino, that is until she realized all the slot cards had different names on them. Suddenly, we were a pair of International Identity thiefs gathering information to use to steal peoples identities and ruin their lives.
Ian was placed in a separate holding room while I set about the task of trying to argue my point and case with the now three officers. When I finally, finally got it through their heads that there was no way these cards could ever be of use to anyone for anything other than a collectible (they were still somewhat suspicious) the attention was shifted back to the theft concept. Knowing the general manager of the casino, I immediately suggested they call the casino and speak to him to clear this all up. So, a call was placed to the casino, and naturally, he was home in bed (it was now 2:30 AM) so they spoke to the customer service clerk, who admitted although it was her FIRST day on the job, she would suspect that all the items I had were indeed stolen!
How one steals casino chips I have no idea, but that was enough for the them. Everything I had was immediately confiscated, and I was informed that I was being placed under investigation for illegal activities including theft, identity theft, and basically anything else they could think of. In the other room, officers were grilling Ian over the items and wanting to know if they were related to drug smuggling or what the situation was.
Finally, after three hours at the border, and basically doing everything short of tearing the car apart to prove there was nothing else concealed in it, we were allowed back into Canada, both still under investigation, and minus every last item that I had collected over the three days at the casino. Fortunately I still work for a division of the federal government that is joined with Customs and am still friends with the Superintendent who knew of my hobby. It took about 20 phone calls and 3 months before all the investigations and paper work on the trip was finally wrapped up. Definitely not what one expects on a simple chipping trip. To this day, when I cross the border, if I am chipping or slot card collecting, I will no longer carry any of it across the border with me, it gets mailed, and of course, I now also make sure the car is totally empty before I leave!