At 6pm I finally managed to get through to Graham, who'd invited me to stay for a few days of work in Christchurch. He told me that if I could get to his house by 6.20, and I could play blackjack, then how would I like to go to the casino and help his local Rotary club spend NZ$3500 of someone else's money, all for charity? As if I needed asking: half an hour later we were heading off to the town's main den of iniquity.
The plot went like this. Each of the local Rotary clubs would put forward seven players, who would then play against each other; the winner from each club would then go through to the final, where they'd play the winners from all the other clubs, and the winner of that game could choose the charity to which the Rotary clubs would donate NZ$1000. At least, that had been the plan, but Graham's club had a few last-minute cancellations; luckily, when I appeared, I was only too happy to fill the gap, so the game was back on.
The alcohol was completely free all night, and there were plenty of sandwiches and little nibbles, so I was counting myself a winner before we even started. As for the blackjack, it was a rather close thing; I hadn't played blackjack for years – ignoring a few drunken hands in Perth – but the old skill was obviously still there, as by the last hand of the third shoe it was down to me, with NZ$2400, and a jovial bloke called Noel, with NZ$1900 (not bad, considering we'd started with NZ$500 each). In theory it's pretty hard to lose from that sort of position, but Noel was a real gambler, and with it being someone else's money he put his whole stash on the last hand, and it came up trumps. So Noel went through, thankfully as he was the much better player and I was beginning to get far too drunk for another game, and we all settled round to support our man.
Halfway through the game we were a little concerned, because Noel, being the classic big gambler, was down to just one chip, a blue NZ$100 disc, and all the others had stacks of brown NZ$500 chips, and huge piles of green NZ$25 chips. Quite how Noel came through to win I'll never know, but it involved betting everything he had a number of times, and ending up with blackjacks all over the place; meanwhile our support was getting louder and louder, and the beer just kept on flowing. Before we'd known it Noel had won, against all the odds.
So we had a drunken team photo for the local paper and got invited upstairs into the High Flyer room, where all the drinks and food continued to be free (so I drank champagne all night, ate oysters and generally fulfilled all the fantasies I've developed while travelling on a budget). I vaguely remember having long, in-depth conversations with various important local figures, but by this stage I was well past the point of no return. It was quite an introduction to Christchurch.