The History of Casino Chips

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Whether you still venture out to a brick-and-mortar casino to play traditional games or have a favourite online casino that has everything you desire, casino chips are an integral part of the experience. But despite the rich history of gambling games and casinos, the humble chip has not been around for as long. Gambling can be traced back to ancient civilisations, namely early China, while the first recorded casino was established in Venice in 1626. Chips on the other hand, have been in use in their earliest form since the late 1800s.

The early days

Prior to chips being used as currency, games were played using all manner of objects including gold nuggets, beans and coins. In even earlier days, harder materials such as wood, bone and ivory were used. Some players even made their own chips out of paper or clay, but of course, this made cheating easy. Players would add their homemade chips to their stash and cash out, so of course, an alternative that could be regulated was required.

The evolution of chips

In the 1880s, companies started producing chips made from clay. Using a compression mould, the chips were a uniform size and due to the embossing and engraving on the inlay, they were not as easily forged with specific designs differentiating them from other sets. But the major downside was that they were fragile and easily broken, especially if handled roughly. 

This was an ongoing issue for casinos for subsequent decades – until the 1940s and ’50s. In addition to the use of clay, other earthy materials such as chalk and sand were added to the chip to increase their durability. It was also around this time that plastic chips were introduced, mainly for domestic use. These forms of chip are still used today, for example, in home Poker sets.

Ceramic chips were later introduced in the 1980s and these were popular. Whereas clay chips only allowed lettering and graphics on the inlay, ceramic chips allowed embossing all over the surface of the chip, making it ideal for casinos to stamp their logos or branding on them. 

The chips of today have a number of enhanced security features so nobody can cheat the system. Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are embedded within the chips so that casinos can track their whereabouts. If someone was to steal or counterfeit the chips, they could be deactivated and consequently be deemed worthless. Not only that, but RFID tags can track all manner of activity – from how much each table is making or losing to ensuring that dealers are handling transactions correctly. Chips are also marked using special ink which can only be visible under UV rays.

Collecting chips

Some people collect stamps, while others collect casino chips! Chip collecting was popular in the 1980s, when magazines such as Worldwide Casino Exchange would offer dozens of chips for sale. The chips are graded on their condition from new, meaning never used in games, all the way down to damaged, which could be due to a number of factors (burning, staining, warping, broken or missing inlay). 

There are many different ways to collect chips and due to the volumes that are available, most collectors will specialise. Some may choose to collect every chip from a certain casino, or one from every establishment in Las Vegas, but others may collect by specific denomination.

Remarkably, during a Casino Chip & Gaming Tokens Collectors Club convention in 2014, a $5 chip from the Golden Goose sold for $75,000, while a $5 chip from the Lucky Casino sold for $52,500.

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