Whether it’s the uncertainty of the outcome, the danger that gets our hearts racing, or the hope that fixates us on the possibilities – humans are, and always have been, driven towards games of luck and chance. And while we give a lot of attention to the real-life and online casino games themselves, the strategies, the cards, and the wins, what would poker, blackjack, and roulette all be meaningless without? Why, the chips, of course! As Julius “Big Julie” Weintraub said: “The guy who invented poker was bright, but the guy who invented the chip was a genius.”
Gambling dates back to Paleolithic times, far before written history. Early evidence has been found in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia – where the six-sided die dates back to around 3000BC, China – where gambling houses and betting on animal fights were commonplace – and the Greek Empire, where ancient books, paintings and statues depict games of throwing dice and tossing coins.
Today, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a casino without chips (even if slot games are more your bag). However, in the early (and very illegal) days of poker in the 1800s, players were expected to bring items of value to the table to bet with, such as small pieces of gold dust or ivory, coins, and gold nuggets. These items, however, lacked uniformity and were easy to forge in many cases, making them untenable. In the mid-1800s, early tokens were developed; however, they remained unmarked, making for many a night where tables ended with more chips than they started with! The clay chips that we know and love today were first produced around the 1880s, and were standardised and thus harder to replicate.
From golden nuggets and small pieces of bone to the clay tokens we know and love, casino chips are often overlooked – yet they are absolutely essential to many of our favourite casino games. Let’s take a look at the untold story of casino chips, and some of the most interesting facts about them that you probably didn’t know… until now!
1.The colour of money
Not all chips are made the same! As you may have noticed, there are a wide variety of colour and number variations on chips, based on the casino. Before online gambling, there were some silently agreed-upon regulations; for example, blue was worth a lot of money and white was worth much less. However, these days, the colours and denominations on chips are entirely unique to each casino, confirmed by the various casino prints and logos on chips. What’s interesting is that the colour palettes are designed primarily for the efficiency of the dealers. Dealers learn their casino’s specified denominations and colours, so that they can see your bets based on the colour of your chips, without needing to count them each time. So if you were ever wondering how they made it seem so easy, now you know!
2. Show us what you’re made of
There are four popular kinds of casino chips, namely: composite/clay, ceramic, metal, and plastic. The most sought after are the composite/clay chips. At one point, casino chips were made entirely of clay, but these have not been used since the 1950s. What people may call “clay chips” today are really made from a composite material that mimics the touch and feel of the old ones, while being more durable and not as brittle. These chips are long-lasting, slide across the table smoothly, and stack and riffle easily. As they weigh more than plastic chips (between 8.5g and 10.6g), chip tricks are easier – and splashing the pot produces a deeper, more satisfying sound.
Now for the interesting part.
Casino chips are more difficult to fake than currency! Casinos are no strangers to forgeries and fraudsters, so they’ve gone to great lengths to protect their most valuable commodities. Even if you were able to replicate the exact size, weight and colour of specific chips, counterfeits would still be detectable by the absence of specific serial numbers, UV markings, holograms, microdots and microchips — that’s right — some casino chips are embedded with microchips! So while you may be able to replicate the look of a chip, in reality, replicas are strikingly obvious to trained casino staff.
3. Dirty money
It’s probably not what’s on the forefront of your mind when sitting at a roulette table, but have you ever thought about just how many hands touched those chips before you? Well, you have now! We admit that with the pandemic having seen sanitiser become a daily part of our lives, this probably isn’t as bad as it was pre-2020; but even so, a 2007 study by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found that those innocent little chips carry more bacteria than a public toilet seat. We bet this little fact will either make you grateful you already play online casino games or have you signing up to an online casino asap!
4. Expiration date
If your grandfather presented you with one of his most valuable poker chips from back in the day, you may wonder whether that casino would still cash in on it. Unfortunately, your chip is probably best kept as a sentimental token, as casino chips do, in fact, have an expiration date. Chips are valid for as long as the casino remains in business (unless, of course, they redesign them), after which, they become worthless. This is also the case should a large casino corporation buy a smaller casino — the original chips would become worthless when replaced during the takeover. Should a large amount of a particular denomination have been stolen, or were someone to attempt to create counterfeit chips, that denomination would also be replaced with a new design, and the older chips would be nullified.
5. The disposal of casino chips
Before regulations were introduced in the state of Nevada in 1987, US casino chips were disposed of in interesting ways, to put it lightly. One common disposal ground was the deep waters of man-made Lake Mead on the Colorado river (a mere 24 miles or so from Las Vegas), which was found by divers to be home to many such unwanted items, as well as the bodies of mob victims! It was also not uncommon for stacks of chips to be found in the Las Vegas desert where, because of the intense heat, many melted, leaving only the metal inserts intact. Another acceptable dumping ground was in the very foundations of the casinos themselves, such as at the New Frontier and Dunes casinos. And then there was the Carson City car park in Nevada, where 30,000 Travelodge casino chips were found in 2011 (after having closed in 1979), swiftly followed by swarms of collectors!
Chip me in
If all this talk has sparked your appetite for a good game of poker (or something else), be sure to register with Mecca Games to play to your heart’s content! Of course, if table games aren’t your thing, or you’re looking for more variety, you might prefer to play slots online: did you know we also have some of the best online slots on our site? Check out our wide range of online slots, mobile slots and Slingo games. Whatever it is that floats your boat, Mecca Games has got you covered.Lisa Stolmings / 25 March 2021