No losers in this card game


The State House is known for its senators and representatives, the lobbyists, the union leaders and, of course, the reporters ever vigilant for the story.

And legislators have been known to bluff and, in some cases, stay in the game a little too long. But then that goes, too, for the lobbyists and union leaders. As for the reporters, well, they just hang around and try to figure what’s happening. Right?

That wasn’t the case Tuesday afternoon for at least one reporter, Kim Kalunian of WPRO Radio. The Warwick resident and former Beacon reporter was right in the midst of the action mixing it up with some other Warwick luminaries, including Sen. Michael McCaffrey and Representatives J. Joseph Shekarchi and Joseph McNamara.

But the venue wasn’t the halls of the State House, although like the State House a lot was riding on how they performed. At stake was a grand prize of $10,000. Better yet, not one of the 36 men and women would be a loser. They would all walk away with $1,000 just for playing.

The game, in case you haven’t already guessed, was blackjack, not politics, and the venue was Twin River Casino, not the State House. Twin River handed out a total of $60,000 in donations to Rhode Island non-profits Tuesday.

This was not the conventional means of contributing where the donor stands with an oversized check alongside the president of the agency and everyone smiles for the camera, even though there was one of those giant checks. Instead there was an element of the unknown, surprise and in Twin River style gambling.

Each of those invited to the blackjack tables were playing for a non-profit of their choice. Shekarchi was playing for the JONAH Center in Oakland Beach. Kalunian was in the game for her pet charity, the East Greenwich Animal Protection League; McNamara was playing for the American Cancer Society. And McCaffrey was out to pile the chips as high as he could for the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon.

The rules were simple. The 36 players would be divided into six tables of six. They would be required to bet a minimum of $100 on each hand and after playing six hands the winner from each table would come together for a championship six rounds. The winner of that would get $10,000 for the charity they were representing.

Kalunian, who turned to YouTube for a tutorial on the game, was eliminated after the first six hands, as were Shekarchi and McNamara. McCaffrey, who turned to Larry Goldberg, an avid poker player and member of the Warwick Rotary Club, for some coaching made it to the championships.

With representatives of the non-profits, players and, naturally, the television crews with their cameras crowded around, the table of champions got down to business. It was hardly a contest. Rep. Scott Slater was on a streak that even awed Twin River Casino chairman John Taylor. Slater couldn’t lose. He had back-to-back blackjacks and nary a hand that fell below 20 points.

McCaffrey was left holding some chips, although he was sixth out of six. Nonetheless, he raked in $1,500 for the decathlon. It was a win he would have taken any day and one gratefully received by the decathlon, not to mention every non-profit represented.


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