Last year, the second annual casino night raised $10,000 — enough to grant two wishes — sending one boy with thyroid cancer to Walt Disney World and another girl with seizure disorder on a cruise to the Caribbean.
Shanna Taylor, the CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Tri-Counties, said this partnership between Chi Omega and the Make-A-Wish Foundation is nationwide. However, Cal Poly’s Chi Omega chapter always sponsors children in San Luis Obispo County so the members have the opportunity to make a local impact.
“We choose (to sponsor) one where the women can be involved in the presentation (of the wish),” Taylor said.
The sorority also tries to present the wish at a time that is convenient for the Cal Poly students. This means they can’t present the wish over the summer, when most students have gone home, or during finals.
“Volunteers go out and they meet with the family and they ask the child, ‘If you could have anything, if you could go anywhere, if you could meet anyone, what would it be?’” Taylor said.
Then, items representing the wish are gathered, and a wish-granting party is thrown for the child. This could mean presenting airplane tickets accompanied by a set of suitcases if the child has asked to travel.
Taylor said that Chi Omega helps sponsor the wish, they attend the party for the child and meet with their family, often bringing party decorations or cake.
Journalism sophomore Amy Checho is in charge of marketing for the “Chi O Casino.” Checho, who recently had ice cream with one child who benefited from last year’s proceeds of Chi O Casino, said meeting with the children makes the women of Chi Omega more committed to the cause.
“It hits people close to the heart because we get to see what our money goes towards,” Checho said. “Because we get to see the result, we put so much more effort into it.”
This year, the women of Chi Omega have raised the bar for themselves by setting a fundraising goal of $15,000 — enough for three wishes.
Philanthropy chair for Chi Omega and biological sciences junior Dani Katz said the club has already gathered more than $11,000 in donations from businesses and ticket sales for Chi O Casino.
“Now it’s looking like we might be able to make our goal of $20,000,” Katz said. “That would just be exceeding our expectations.”
Along with gathering donations, Katz has been working at finding a venue, gathering prize donations and renting game tables from casino table company Casino Knights after taking office as philanthropy chair in June. As part of the preparation, sorority members are trained as dealers in the different games.
“A lot of the girls in our sorority have never played cards,” Katz said.
To help the women learn how to run a roulette table or deal blackjack, the sorority arranges a six-day training session. The lessons are broken down into two-hour classes based on each game, and the women attend the classes of their respective game.
Having all of the sisters participate helps them feel invested in the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s work, Katz said.
“They’re really involved, so they know that they’re making a difference,” Katz said.
Also, the family dynamic and philanthropic goal of the evening means gambling addiction isn’t a worry, like in other casinos, Katz said.
“I don’t see this as one of those atmospheres because it’s open to the community,” Katz said.
While many casinos only accept those 21 or older and serve alcohol, Chi O Casino is a dry event, to which all ages are admitted.
Mechanical engineering junior Rick Hayes, who has attended the Chi O Casino for the last two years, said part of the relaxed atmosphere stems guests playing for raffle tickets instead of real money.
“It’s really open,” Hayes said. “Not like the hardcore, everyone’s wearing sunglasses, don’t talk to the big guy next to you (places).”
Hayes went to the first casino night after receiving an invitation from the Chi Omega sisters, who he said were “really pumped about it.” He had never gambled before, but said he felt comfortable with the dealers explaining how to play each game.
“All the years, I’ve lost my chips probably in half an hour,” Hayes said, but people usually shared their spare chips with him.
Chips for gambling at Chi O Casino are not purchased and do not represent money. Instead, guests pay $10 at the door to get in or $5 for presale tickets, and are given a set of chips to gamble with or exchange for raffle tickets to enter into drawings.
Most of the prizes available are gift baskets donated by local businesses or the sisters, valued at $100 each. Raffle tickets that aren’t pulled in the gift basket drawing are entered into a drawing for the grand prizes: a $1,000, $3,000 or $5,000 photo package that can be used for wedding photos, family photos or anything else.
All of the money the sorority raises will go directly to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Chi O Casino will be open Feb. 11 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the San Luis Obispo Veterans’ Hall, located at 801 Grand Ave.