All over Alberta, Canada, young men will sit anxiously in front of a strip club stage with change stacked in front of them. They will wait patiently, eagerly anticipating their turn to throw their money at a stripper's crotch for the chance to win some shitty prize, usually a poster or a magnet.
Around these parts it's known as the "loonie game," named after Canada's dollar coin. The game commences shortly after a dancer has finished her initial dance on stage. At this point she'll typically sit down on a towel or blanket (so she's not seated directly on the stage) and start to make her way around the riser, stopping in front of every member of "perv row"—the area where eager dudes occupy the row of seats directly in front of the stage. Once she's positioned in front of said audience member, she will most likely, shall we say, present herself by lying on her back and spreading her legs or turning around and arching her back on all fours.
The patron then takes their money and lobs it in the general direction of the stripper's genitals. Sometimes, she will hold a rolled up poster of herself, positioned like a funnel leading down towards her crotch, into which the contestant will toss his coins. But, like a carny, the dancer will typically move it slightly to let you win or lose depending on the amount you've spent so far. Another popular variation of the contest is when a stripper will get on all fours and stick a loonie on her posterior, which patrons will then try to knock off with their coins. The loonie game can take many forms but there is one constant rule – it will all end with change being chucked towards a stripper's crotch. (That's typically followed by the stripper making a sad stroll around the stage afterwards while swinging a magnet on a string to collect the change.)
The game raises many questions, the main one being, how in god's name did we get to the point where this gross spectacle is normal behaviour in Alberta strip clubs?
As with a great many shitty things in our society like prohibition and the war on drugs, it arose from good old-fashioned puritanism. In the late 80s and early 90s, an extreme anti-exotic dancing group named the "Citizens for Decency" emerged in Alberta. It was spearheaded by Audrey Jensen, a woman who seemed dead-set on being the biggest buzzkill on the planet. Believing that "the lust" caused by exotic dancing created many of the great evils in society Jensen set out to ban stripping in Alberta. She was an effective advocate, showing up in front of strip clubs with signs and organising letter-writing campaigns. Over time she earned the ear of many politicians in the right-wing government.
Jensen's crusade has had lasting effects on the province, the most profound being her impact on the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, which was founded in 1996. The AGLC has some of the strictest rules in the country regarding nude entertainment in licensed venues – and this is where you can find the catalyst that created the loonie game.
"The loonie toss stems from having a liquor license [that requires] a three-foot barrier in your liquor service area between the customers and the dancers," Jesse Cochard of Chez Pierre, the only club without the loonie game in Edmonton, told VICE." Historically, that is where the loonie toss comes from."
The particular rule that has inspired thousands of coins to take flight is 5.11.6-A. The almost two-decade-old rule deems that any licensed venue that offers nude entertainment must provide "a stage or enclosed dance floor, separated from the patron seating area by at least one (1) metre." The enforcement of this rule essentially outlawed close-up tipping in any licensed venue that held nude entertainment. Touching is banned, so you can't hand the dancer money directly and, because neither customer nor dancer can enter that three-foot area, you can't leave the money on the stage. As a response, the loonie game was invented to circumvent the rules and allow patrons to tip the dancers.
So it would seem that Audrey Jensen, one of the most ardent defenders of "decency" in western Canada, is at least partly responsible for one of the most repugnant traditions in that part of the country. If the act wasn't so dehumanising, the whole situation would be hilarious.
"It's gross. Beyond just being gross, it's weird," said Sylvia Linings, an exotic dancer who grew up in Alberta. "It's a weird reaction to, 'Hey we can't do the titty tipping anymore, we're Canadian so let's flick coins at people's pussies.' It's a weird, weird thing."
As degrading as it seems, it's still become such an entrenched part of the culture that strippers tend to acquire a set of skills unique to this particular aspect of their occupation.
"The funny thing about being a stripper in Alberta is that when a coin hits your body you can tell, 'Oh, that's a quarter,'" Arabella Allure, an Australian stripper now working in Canada, told VICE. "Once you've had several thousand dollars of change thrown at you, believe me, when a coin hits you that isn't the right weight, you fuckin' know about it."
But the loonie game is not only gross, it's also dangerous. The coins can easily cause a dancer sporting heels to take a nasty fall if a customer gets a little worked up and blows his loonie wad all over the stage before the strippers initial dance ends. Moreover, some people use the game to intentionally hurt strippers.
Read more: Strippers Explain Strip Club Etiquette
Some strippers sport little indents from patrons winging coins at their genitals while others sport permanent half-circle burns on their bodies after a customer used a lighter to heat up a coin before throwing it.
"You'll get guys who think it's super funny to hit you on the nipple, your asshole, or clit," Allure said. "I've had friends whose skin has been broken because they had a piercing on their hood or whatever and the coin impacts hard enough that it has broken the skin. Which then it's like a health issue because money is filthy."
When she first came to Edmonton to dance, no one told Allure about the game – she saw one of her dancers getting change thrown at her vagina, and tried to grab security to beat the shit out of the man doing the deed.
"Where the fuck is security? I thought. What the fuck is this? When she got off stage, I started apologising to the girl that I couldn't find security because that guy was chucking coins at her. And she was like, 'No, honey it's just the loonie game.'
"I've been all over the world, and Alberta is the only place they throw coins at you."
Now, even if the rules change – which is a possibility – the activity of chucking hunks of metal at a stripper is likely to stick around because it's ingrained into the culture of Albertan strip clubs. Some clubs have change dispensers, and others have girls walking around with a tray filled with rolls of loonies to sell to the participants just like they were tequila shots. It's just the way things are in this region of Canada now – a part of the experience.
"It's weird, I grew up with it in Alberta, learning about it as soon as I learned about strip clubs," Linings told me. "It's the world's weirdest carnival game. Like here's your big stuffy bear for throwing loonies at my crotch for a while. It's disgusting."
"It's the most fucked-up, inhumane thing I have ever come across."
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