Done deal: The short, crazy life of a casino playing card

Detroit — That dog-eared deck of cards lying in your junk drawer or toy box probably has been there for years, waiting for the next round of Go Fish or gin rummy.

But it’s a different story at the region’s casinos, where playing cars live fast, die young, and sometimes find a second life at a senior citizen home or a GI‘s tent in Iraq.

In fact, to keep the poker and blackjack tables bustling 24/7, 365 days a year, Detroit’s three casinos and Casino Windsor collectively burn though more than 1 million decks of cards a year.

Some decks last a couple of hours, others a few days. In some cases, decks are repeatedly changed during games to prevent unscrupulous bettors from marking the cards. „It really depends on the game,“ said Roger Martin, a spokesman for Greektown Casino.

Blackjack decks are usually swapped out most often. Cards used in casino poker rooms are replaced far less frequently — usually every week or two. That’s because players are competing against each other and not the casino, making security less of a concern.

Poker rooms also use cards made from a mix of plastic and paper; which can be washed to remove smudges or marks.

„We replace the poker decks once a week,“ said Jacci Woods, a spokeswoman for MotorCity Casino.

MGM Grand Detroit declined to say how often it changes cards.

In most cases, the cards are in near mint condition when their time on the green felt is over.

Every year, Casino Windsor donates 80,000 decks to Casino Windsor Cares, a charitable program that passes the cards on to seniors, veterans groups, card groups and other nonprofits.

Ward said that Windsor’s Centre for Seniors and the Hospice of Windsor-Essex County sort the used playing cards as part of client-therapy programs.

Sending used cards to U.S. troops also is a big part of the casinos‘ giveaway programs.

Casino Windsor donated 10,000 decks in 2005, 62,297 decks in 2006 and 15,840 decks so far in 2007. MotorCity recently sent 60,000 decks overseas, and Greektown sent an undisclosed number to soldiers.
A Setauket, N.Y., mother of a Navy seaman, recently sent a thank-you note to MotorCity for the cards her son received.

„I have a son in the Navy (who) is an avid ‚Texas Hold ‚Em‘ player and it brings him a whole lot of happiness in his down time,“ wrote Cathy Mossholder. „At least he is able to concentrate on something other than defending his country and the war. You can’t imagine how much the young men and women stationed so far away from their homes appreciate your donations.“

The casinos often drill holes in the decommissioned cards so they don’t return to tables up the sleeve of a grifter.

MGM Grand Detroit shreds no-longer-in-play cards — sometimes after only a few hours of use. The casino, however, said it’s now considering giving cards to charity.

None of the casinos would divulge how much they spend on playing cards. Wholesalers say the decks start at USD 2 to USD 3 a pack, but casinos that buy a lot get volume discounts.

Poker cards get redesign

MGM Grand Detroit and Casino Windsor use the familiar blue and red cards made by the United States Playing Card Co., the largest brand-name producer of cards in the world. The Cincinnati-based company says it makes more than 100 million decks of cards a year, supplying about 80 percent of North America’s casinos.

„The cards certainly don’t wear out that fast, but it’s more of a security procedure to make sure the cards haven’t been marked by a patron that’s not on the up and up,“ said Rob Chendering, brand manager for the company’s Bicycle and KEM cards.

The 120-year-old firm recently unveiled a new poker deck, the first major design change in 40 years.

The Bicycle Pro PokerPeek cards contain small markings in each corner so players need only lift the edges to assess their hand.

The premium card is made of high-grade paper mixed with cotton, which makes it more durable. The edges are beveled to provide better control for shuffling.

The new technology is being used for the first time in the 2007 World Series of Poker, now under way in Las Vegas. They will be available for retail sale — at USD 3 a deck — in July and through its KEM line sold to the majority of U.S. casinos.