Scratchers (or “How I stopped the Commodities Exchange in 6 easy steps”)

Enough time has gone by that I think it’s safe to put this story in writing…

The summer after I graduated high school I got a summer job as a runner on the floor of NYCOMEX (the New York Commodities Exchange) in the World Trade Center (WTC).  A runner is someone who takes written orders from the traders and hands them off to their company’s trading desk elsewhere on the floor to process and then brings other orders from the desk to the traders to execute.

It was a very stressful, high-paced job.  I got only 15 minutes for lunch and then couldn’t leave at the end of the day until all of the contested trades were reconciled with the other brokers’ clerks.

But it was also a very interesting learning experience.  I worked the Silver and Gold rings and got to see first-hand what goes on there and how world events affected the Futures markets for those and other commodities.

It was also less than a year after the Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd movie “Trading Places“.

The trading sequences were shot right there on the very same floor and they used a lot of the traders as extras so I recognized a lot of faces from the movie.  And, no, they don’t actually trade Frozen OJ futures.

I tended to work the Silver Ring (where silver futures are traded) more than the Gold Ring, and one day the trader I was assigned to turns to me and says, “I don’t like this. There’s too much trading going on here relative to what the market is dictating right now.”

He then hands me $200 and instructs me to go down into the underground plaza in WTC and buy 200 $1 lotto scratcher tickets.  I had to covertly purchase only 20-30 at a time from quite a few retailers, zigzagging my way around down there so as to not draw too much attention to myself by buying a ton of tickets all at once.

When I got back upstairs the trader takes the tickets from me and passes them around to all the other traders in the ring.  Sure enough, that stopped all of trading dead for a few minutes.  He had me collect the winners and cash them in downstairs and then buy more tickets with the receipts.

Again, I went back upstairs and he handed out the next batch.  And again trading was at a standstill.

This went on for 6 rounds until we depleted all of the winnings.

Trading eventually resumed but at a much more relaxed pace and more in line with what my guy said the level of activity should be.

I couldn’t believe how easy it was for the 2 of us to literally halt one of the world’s most powerful commodities markets with nothing more than $200 in lotto scratchers.

Like I said, it was a very interesting learning experience.


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