Poker Chip Bailout: What Donald Trump and ‘Hell or High Water’ Have in Common

When the chips were down, Trump’s dad bought his son’s casino with $3.3 million worth of ’em

Oscar donald trump chris pine hell or high water
Getty Images/CBS Films

If you’ve seen “Hell or High Water,” you already know that casino poker chips are a great way to launder stolen money. But did you know they’re also a convenient way to loan your son money?

That was one thing we learned from a New York Times story over the weekend. It noted that in 1990, when Donald Trump faced an $18.4 million interest payment on his Trump Castle Casino Resort in Atlantic City, his dad came to the rescue. Fred Trump sent a lawyer to buy $3.3 million worth of gambling chips, and to leave without cashing them in.

That amounted to a free $3.3 million cash infusion to the casino. In other words, when the chips were down for Donald Trump, his dad used chips to give him $3.3 million.

New Jersey’s state Division of Gaming Enforcement later said the chip purchase was illegal, but didn’t discipline Donald Trump. The casino got to keep the money, but had to pay a $30,000 fine, according to a 1991 Philadelphia Inquirer story.

The tale of the chips has come up before, but drew new interest in light of the Times’ report that Trump reported $916 million in losses in 1995 tax filings. The report raised questions about Trump’s business acumen.

It also shows the extent to which Trump relied on his family fortune, even well after establishing himself as a public figure. As the Times reports:

“By 1993, Mr. Trump was still in dire straits. He dispatched a company executive to ask his siblings if he could borrow $10 million from their respective shares of the family trust. Mr. Trump received the loan, according to people who were involved and spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering him, and went back for another $20 million the following year. Mr. Trump has denied borrowing from his siblings.”

“Hell or High Water” is also about a divorced dad (Chris Pine) who cleverly uses casino chips in a scheme to pay off a mortgage. In the movie, the main guys are bank robbers, and their family has always been poor. And they’re trying to save the family farm, not a casino.

But to Trump’s credit, he isn’t accused of pulling a gun on anyone.