Just to get everyone up to speed on the trials and tribulations of one Charles Entertainment Cheese, let’s do a quick recap: For the past year, Chuck E. Cheese’s parent company, CEC Entertainment, has been sliding deeper and deeper into debt. In 2019, Chuck E. Cheese kicked its animatronic house band to the curb, paving the way for a more open-concept “interactive dance floor,” which sounds a lot cheaper to maintain than an army of musical robots. It began phasing out the use of play tokens, switching to an “All You Can Play” model, which sounds like it encourages a lot more impulse spending. It entered the pandemic in March with nearly $1 billion in debt, became a neighborhood pizza and wing joint, declared bankruptcy in June, and recently secured $200 million from investors so that it could continue to seek a buyer for its ailing children’s entertainment empire. Phew! Okay, you’re caught up now.
Part of declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy means that a company must seek the court’s permission to spend what little money it has at its disposal. CNN reports that this week, CEC Entertainment requested to spend $2 million purchasing—and destroying—7 billion undelivered Chuck E. Cheese prize tickets, the gold standard of childhood currency. Seven billion prize tickets. Depending on how good you are at Skee-Ball, that’s between 1-7 billion rounds’ worth of rewards. If this news doesn’t cause some part of you to scream “NO!” inside, then you’ve truly lost touch with your inner child.
CNN has a particularly devastating set of stats: “It’s enough paper to fill 65 shipping containers, each 40 feet long, with tiny pieces of paper emblazoned with the image of the chain’s mascot, a rat named Chuck. And enough to cash in for $9 million in Chuck E. Cheese prizes.”
In fact, those $9 million in Chuck E. Cheese prizes are what the chain is most worried about protecting. The company’s lawyers explained to a bankruptcy judge this week that, should these undelivered tickets fall into the wrong hands and begin circulating among the general public, and should the public actually present the tickets for redemption at the prize counter (who wouldn’t?), the company stands to lose millions more dollars than the amount it will cost to preemptively destroy the tickets. Beyond that, one reason the tickets were never delivered to Chuck E. Cheese’s 600-plus locations is because they were printed just as the company was shifting to paperless eTickets; it’s all just paper—precious, precious paper—sitting in storage with no purpose.
CNN notes that the judge plans to rule on the matter next week, which means we have plenty of time to dream about what we would’ve redeemed all those tickets for. Boogie board? Easy-Bake Oven? Approximately 1 trillion rubber monster finger puppets? The possibilities will haunt us forever.