Gambling has been traced all the way back to ancient civilizations of China and Mesopotamia. Venice legalized the first recorded casino nearly 400 years ago in 1626.
Relatively speaking, casino chips are still very much in their infancy.
Indulge me if you will and imagine a time not long ago when the Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan of their day saddled up at a poker table. Only it’s not the poker chip you and I are accustomed to.
No, they pull out small nuggets of gold or even gold dust.
Obviously, there was a critical need for a standard here. Enter the efforts of early poker dens and gambling houses. These primitive chips were made of everything from bone to clay. The casinos and poker rooms soon realized how easy these were to forge and began marking these with their own unique brand.
1 – That $1 Chip in Your Junk Drawer Could Be Worth Thousands
If you have a habit of coming home from the casino with a few chips in your luggage, as I do. Then you may want to go scan your collection.
Recently a woman innocently posted a $1 chip from the Showboat Casino in Las Vegas to eBay. She was contacted by a collector and advised the chip may be worth upwards of $15,000. Sure enough, the $1 chip sold at auction for over $30,000.
I did a quick eBay search and while there were no $30,000 “buy it now” chips at the moment. I did find a $0.10 chip from Commerce Casino that could be yours for a low price of $5,000.
2 – The Poker Chip Shuffle
I remember watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN years ago and being mesmerized not only by the enormous pots but by the colorful characters. I watched as they (mostly) would effortlessly twirl chips between their fingers. Then placed in two symmetrical stacks idly shuffle into one taller stack, then back to two and so on.
I’m not even sure if it was the visual aspect or the cool, calm sound of the chips clacking together that hypnotized me. All I knew was that I had to go buy some poker chips and learn this amazing feat myself.
So, I did.
I’d sit at my pub table for hours watching TV and learning my latest trick.
Though I’ve never had the confidence to show off my new skill at the casino, I’ve definitely clicked and clacked hours away in small cash games.
3 – Color Blind
I find it astonishing that there is no color standard for chips. While a gaming board may control them at times. Luckily, most Vegas casinos have commonalities for the denominations:
The most common are white $1, pink $2.50, red $5, green $25 and black $100. However, the larger dollar amounts also seem to be in line. These are purple $500, yellow or orange $1,000 and brown or gray $5,000.
Posh casinos like Aria or Bellagio in Las Vegas have high-value chips up to $100,000.
So, someone drop me a line and let me know what color these are.
4 – Fake Out
I alluded earlier to the casino chip’s long history of counterfeiting.
Who among us has never at least considered how easily we could turn those nice home game chips into some real money?
Just need to get the right weight, feel and design and here comes “easy street”.
It turns out that casino chips are more difficult to replicate than US currency. The casino insiders know the long history of forgeries too and they aren’t having it. The market for their in house currency is mammoth, so the security of their most prized commodity is scrutinized to the maximum.
Let’s say someone was able to perfectly replicate the feel, weight, and design. Then they’d have to figure out serial numbers and even microchips. Yes, some casino chips are embedded with microchips — not to mention any other countermeasures not yet imagined.
5 – Hit the Road Jack but Cash Out
So, you’ve gotten hot at the blackjack table and accrued a nice stack of chips. Unfortunately, your buddies are ice cold and ready to head down the strip to greener pastures.
Do you toss your chips in a pocket and head out?
Or cash out on your way to the door?
The answer depends on your next destination.
At least in Vegas, many casinos may share chips, provided they’re owned by the same company. It’s actually pretty common to see chips with the names of two different casinos on them. One on each side is the standard in these instances.
There was a day when different Vegas casino companies would cash each other’s chips. Some third-party companies even cashed chips from all of the casinos, but that stopped because of counterfeiting.
6 – Retirement Age
Like many things in life, casino chips do in fact have an expiration date. This, however, is not decided by a chip’s age, but by the bosses at the casino. This means that the life of a casino chip can range between a few weeks or a few decades.
Meanwhile, chips may be forced into early retirement. Casino chips are valid for as long as the casino is in business.
There are a few ways that a casino chip may become worthless — for example if the casino goes out of business. This does happen from time to time.
Also, the casino may be locally owned and then a bigger casino corporation (such as Boyd Gaming) buys the smaller casino. Said corporation could make all the original chips worthless, but usually will notify customers in some form or fashion. This usually takes the form of a big news article about the change of ownership in the local newspaper.
If a large amount of a certain denomination of chips were stolen somehow, they would replace said denomination with a new design. They would then stop honoring the old design.
Similarly, if a person or persons were to create counterfeit casino chips and it became known, that denomination may be replaced. It would depend on the amount and impact of the scam. In other words the casino would figure out the cost to replace compared to the cost of doing nothing — a standard cost/benefit analysis.
7 – Show Them What You’re Made Of
I’ve got buddies that hold weekly poker games at their homes. Every one of them loves to tell me all about how they only use clay casino chips because they are the most realistic. One buddy in particular is constantly talking about how they feel so much like the casino chips and brags about his poker chips being precisely what they use in Vegas.
I mean, casinos only use clay poker chips, correct?
Not exactly. At least not these days.
Even in the larger casinos the casino chips you’ll find are not 100% clay. Clay by itself wouldn’t be exactly durable. Which, as you can imagine, would shorten the life of the chips.
Today’s chips are made from a composite that does include clay, yet is far more durable than clay. So, you get that clay feel and that clay sound without the shortened life.
Additionally, in some Las Vegas casinos you’ll find ceramic chips rather than clay composite chips. These ceramic casino tokens are also prominent in home poker games
I, however, am a fan of the basic plastic poker chips my uncle got me from a gas station because he forgot my birthday one year. They may not be the fanciest and know they don’t feel like casino chips, but casino chips don’t remind me of my uncle.
There’s been much controversy amongst people who study the history of poker chips. A majority of these gambling historians suggest the old fashioned poker chip may be replaced by electronic devices. Now, this could happen online where everything is virtual, casinos are usually much more conservative.
So, feel assured that next time you find yourself laying $20 on black at the roulette wheel, praying for a hard 8 at the craps table or the guy next to you hits on 16; you won’t need an apple watch to cash out.
No, there your old friend will be clicking and clacking in all of its clay composite glory the casino chip.