Tragedy and controversy unfolded at a casino outside of Sacramento, CA, early Friday morning, after Billy, a 340-lb. male gorilla from the Sacramento Zoo somehow made it past security, purchased chips and was seated in a 2/5 No-Limit Texas Hold’em cash game. By best estimates, Billy escaped shortly after the zoo closed Thursday evening and traveled on foot to the Fantasyland Casino & Card Room, operated by the Notaréal Tribe of Northern California, where he arrived around 2 AM. An adult gorilla can reach land speeds of 25 to 30 miles per hour.
Billy was already several orbits into the game by the time staff became aware of the error, and had been playing in what can only be described as a “loose, aggressive style.” Although ahead somewhat, he may have been tilting and some players at the table appeared intimidated by his presence. Floor staff considered asking security to remove Billy, but the silverback was so intent on the game that they feared disturbing him until play halted.
Initially, it was decided that they would wait for the end of dealer Corey Wright’s shift and politely approach the gorilla during dealer change. When Billy’s pocket Aces were cracked during an all-in confrontation with a short stack, however, he began thumping his chest aggressively, and the floor decided the situation had to be stopped immediately. Weighing their options, they made the difficult choice that Wright would have to be put down before dealing another hand.
Casino sharpshooter Jose Manzano was summoned to take the shot. In a brief statement to press in the aftermath, he described Wright as “a personal friend,” and said it was “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
With the game halted, casino staff allowed a minute or two for the situation to settle down. Four members of security then politely approached the table and escorted Billy to the cage to cash out his chips before removing him from the premises.
While the poker community is universally shocked and saddened by Wright’s passing, much heated discussion has already been made on the subject of where blame should be laid.
“I don’t know why they couldn’t just shoot the gorilla,” said Micaela Massey, a cocktail waitress who witnessed the shooting, “Aside from everything else, he wasn’t a very good tipper.”
Plenty of criticism has been leveled at door security and cage staff for allowing a beast of the jungle onto the premises in the first place. Asked how this happened, security manager Douglas O’Leary explained that sometimes proper vetting of clientele and the casino’s customer service policies are at odds.
“I mean, he’s a silverback, so he’s obviously over 21,” O’Leary told a reporter from PartTimePoker, “And yes, he’s a pretty big fellow, and quite hairy, but so are many of our customers. Can you imagine the outrage if we asked a legitimate customer to provide ID to prove they’re human? We can’t treat customers like that, so things like this are going to happen once in a while.”
Others feel full blame should lie squarely on the shoulders of zoo staff for allowing Billy’s escape in the first place. Some have even called for head zookeeper Leanne Richards to be charged for manslaughter in Wright’s death.
Sacramento zoo staff were unavailable for comment, but Leo Choi, president of the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) came to the defense of Richards and her staff.
“Obviously, we do our utmost to ensure that our guests remain in their enclosures,” explained Choi, “but you have to understand, it’s impossible to keep an eye on them continuously. They’re wild animals, for god’s sake, do you have any idea how cunning they are?”
Billy himself also declined to speak to reporters, but insiders at the zoo have told us that he finished his session $55 in the black, but will not be keeping his winnings. Rather, the zoo will be donating them for the purchase of flowers for Wright’s funeral as a gesture of goodwill.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a slightly deranged lover of irony and absurdity from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. If you can’t tell that this story is a fiction, you might be a gorilla and shouldn’t be reading this site.