The famed neon lights and bustling streets of the Las Vegas Strip are far from 228th Avenue in Sammamish.
But they’re closer than one might think.
For the last 14 years, Ralph and Cathy Bell have operated Diamond Casino Products from their quiet Sammamish neighborhood, selling cleaning solutions and machines to some of the gaming industry’s biggest casinos.
Anyone who has played games in establishments like the Bellagio, MGM Grand or Harrah’s has touched a chip, card or table effected by the Bell’s product — and they’re probably grateful.
“When the chips get dirty, they get sticky and they’re just very unsightly,” Ralph said. “With the bacteria and the germs, it’s just really nasty.”
Before moving to Washington in 1985, Ralph worked eight years as a Las Vegas card dealer. He followed by opening successful video rental stores in Kirkland and Sammamish before venturing back into the gaming industry in 1998 when he purchased the rights to Zip’s Card Cleaning System — a machine that specializes in cleaning plastic poker cards.
It was there, through networking, he found another opportunity — an untapped market of sorts.
“At this time there was nobody cleaning chips,” Ralph said. “We found this company that had a patented solution that was sodium based, not soap based. It cleaned the chip, it removed all the oil and grease, dirt and germs and all this stuff. It made it brand new again.”
Ralph purchased the sole rights to sell the solution from the manufacturer, which is based out of San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“They don’t want to sell it, we don’t want to make it,” Ralph said. “It’s a nice marriage.”
Diamond Casino Products currently has between 300 and 400 clients, selling cleaning machines and solutions to regional casinos like Snoqualmie and Muckleshoot and to others as far away as Peru and Australia.
Ralph said there are only two other competitors worldwide who do similar work. He said the major difference is his solution does 90 percent of the cleaning and doesn’t contain soap.
“It’s not toxic, it’s not hazardous, it’s not harmful, there’s no smell, there’s no taste, it’s very safe, but very effective,” Ralph said.
A chip cleaning machine, which provides the finishing touches, holds about 80 chips and it cleans about a chip every second.
The patented products aren’t available to the general public, but they do sell to a few private chip collectors.
While the majority of calls come from casinos, Ralph recently had an interesting experience when his phone started ringing off the hook in the wee hours of the morning.
Somehow his 1-800 number got mixed up with a voting line for an Indian game show, “Dance India Dance.” The calls resulted in one month’s worth of charges at nearly $4,000, forcing him to temporarily shut down his business line and call King 5’s consumer watchdog Jesse Jones. The “Get Jesse” experience resulted in AT&T’s removal of all charges and quite the memory.
“This thing with Jesse was just hysterical,” he said.
Of course, Ralph would gladly take legitimate work-related calls at 3 a.m. if it meant more people using his product. He said that there are a large number of casinos out there who never clean their chips, or don’t do it frequently enough — something to keep in mind when sitting down at the poker table.
“A lot places will replace their chips every 10 to 12 years, but in the meantime it’s just dirty, grease, germs, oil, bacteria,” he said. “It’s scary what’s on there.”