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What Makes Actual Casino Chips Different?

I’m sure you are aware of the fact that there are two kinds of poker and casino chips in the world (well, actually three types if we count the virtual ones you can use to play at an online casino). There are those you can buy online or in land based shops that look and feel real, which you can use to play casino games and poker at home, among friends, and there are the ones that are destined to be used in land-based casinos and poker rooms, the ones that you can exchange for real money. As you can imagine, these have loads of extra security features to make them safe to use – and to avoid fraud of any kinds. But to really see the difference between the two, let’s take a brief look on their history.

Poker chips don’t have a very long history. Until the 19th century money was used for gambling, or any small valuable object they had at hand. During the Gold Rush small pieces of gold, nuggets and gold dust were used along with cash. Slowly the chips themselves were adapted – round pieces of clay, wood, ivory and a composition made of shellac and clay. But the industry had to wait for the late 1880s for the real poker chips to appear.

Most casino chips today are molded, made out of a combination of a series of materials – clay, sand and other earthen materials, similar in nature to cat litter. The process through which the chips are manufactured, as well as their exact composition are trade secrets well kept by the manufacturers, adding an extra layer of security to the process. The inlays – the printed graphics on the chips – is usually made of printed paper, and covered in a thin plastic film to keep it from wearing off. The inlay is applied during the molding process, and cannot be removed without destroying the chip itself.

Each casino has its unique set of chips, even if the casino itself is part of a larger group of gambling establishments. No wonder – the chips have a cash value, and they can be exchanged into real money at the casino’s cashier. The chips have several security features added to them – RFID chips or audible tags that make a Beep! when read with a specific device, high resolution graphics and unique color combinations on the inlays, not to mention UV printings and hard to reproduce manufacturer marks. Casino chips are very hard to counterfeit, but this doesn’t stop crooks from trying – in 2005 two men were caught to attempt to alter the value of a series of $1 chips to turn them into higher denominations.

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What happens to retired casino chips?

All around the world, there are different people collecting a whole selection of weird and wonderful items. For example, there are certain collectors out there who have a passion for collecting expired chips that have spent years being placed on different gaming tables for different people placing different bets. Some have been the result of massive wins, others have been colossal losses.

But all things have a shelf-life, and when batches of casino chips are taken out of circulation, they have to be disposed of. In the old days, there was no official policy on how to do this, and that’s how so many expired casino chips ended up in weird places. In order for them not to be used again, casino management used to get batches dumped in deep lakes, or mixed into the foundations of new buildings that were being constructed.

A romantic notion was that the chips in the foundations would bring the new building good luck. Others viewed it as a practical way to ensure that the chips didn’t fall into the wrong hands.

All chips only have a certain shelf-life. Photo by slgckgc
All chips only have a certain shelf-life. Photo by slgckgc

In Las Vegas, Spinetti’s Gaming Supplies is acknowledged to have one of the biggest collections of casino chips in the world. Whenever caches of expired chips turn up somewhere, Spinetti gets a call. Back in the 1990s when the Dunes Casino was demolished, construction workers discovered chips in the foundations, for example. And the same thing happened in 2007, when the New Frontier was demolished.

Spinetti’s collection is valued at around $15 million and his favourite casino chip is a Flaming chip, dating back from 1947.

Today, there are millions of people who choose to play games, such as poker, roulette, baccarat and blackjack at casinos online. There are plenty of reasons why. It’s convenient, you don’t have to leave home to play, so you have the option to play for just a few minutes and then carry on with work or whatever else you need to do, rather than devote a whole evening, weekend, or vacation to travelling and visiting land-based casinos. You can also play for free in practice mode, or get extra playing credit when you join a new casino site. But there are still plenty of land-based casinos in operation, of course, and nowadays, there’s an official disposal method for expired chips.

New legislation on the subject was introduced in 1987 and as a consequence, expired chips discoveries as outlined above will become even rarer in the future. Regulation 12 was introduced in order to reduce the risks of counterfeit chips being used in the casinos. Now, if a casino is ready to change its chips supply, it has to submit plans to the Gaming Control Board. This outlines what security ID will be used on the new chips and the method for disposing of the old chips. Generally, expired chips from casinos all go the same way these days – through a truck that has a tumbler fitted onto it. The chips are funnelled into the tumbler and are ground into dust.

In a way, this legislation is good news for chips collectors such as Spinetti – their collections will become ever more valuable!

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Plastic Chips Instead of Money, or the Brief History of Poker Chips

If you have ever been to a poker club (or a land based casino for that matter) you have surely noticed that people don’t usually play with real money, but they use plastic or metallic chips instead. This is good for their business – the chips are much easier to handle than real money, there is no risk of tearing them, and they have a much longer life. But did you know that chips are a relatively new phenomenon? They have been around for barely more than a century, whereas the games they are used at are usually much older. Let’s take a look at how these pieces of plastic replaced money at the game table.

Poker chips were introduced in the 19th century – supposedly during the infamous Gold Rush – when players insisted to play not just for money, but for raw nuggets of gold and gold dust. This led to many problems when it came to paying out winnings, so saloons and gambling houses have decided to substitute money and gold with something else, easier to calculate with. Initially they used pieces of bone or ivory (whichever they could afford), and later pieces of clay with unique symbols of them, representing their monetary value.

By using chips made of materials easy to come by, there was a new problem to handle – forgery. Some kind of standardization was desperately needed, and one that would prevent crooks from using counterfeit chips to take their opponents’ (or the house’s) money. This is why companies have started to create clay composition poker chips in the late 19th century, giving birth to a whole new industry and changing the way poker and casino games are played.

Poker chips were made using a mix of materials – that included clay – between the 1880s and the 1930s. There were over one thousand designs to choose from, and different value poker chips had different colors (like they have today). Their usual shape was round, but it was also customary for the use of rectangular plaques with high values at high stakes tables. The chips currently used by casinos and poker clubs have several different materials in their composition, but a certain percentage of them is earthen material like sand, clay or chalk. The exact manufacturing process of the poker chips is a trade secret the manufacturers don’t feel comfortable divulging due to the possibility of fraud.

Chips are still used in all land-based poker rooms and casinos, but they found their way to online outlets as well – although only virtually. Today’s online casinos like to use the poker chip or casino chip as an universally recognized symbol, that looks much better than just showing a few numbers on a green background.