According to the Gaming Commission of Nevada, there are many high-stakes casinos with up to $5 million marks on their tokens. In fact, with the approval of the commission, a chip with any denomination can be created, provided it is backed with sufficient funds.
Poker players revel as they stack a giant fortress of glossy poker chips before them. These towers of shiny disc tokens on the green felt suggest that the player is a force to be reckoned with. However, these are a more recent phenomenon, and their time started in a vastly different form. The first gambling house received legal status in Venice, back in 1626. By the 19th century, Poker had not only become extremely popular but had evolved to a plave where the “Gus Hansens” of that time brought things like gold bits and jewel shards to the table. In short, anything that seemed valuable could be bet; so, inevitably a need for standardisation was impending after a run of over 200 years.
Setting a Standard
Gambling saloons started offering identical pieces of ivory, bone or even clay to the poker players. Unfortunately, these were easy to duplicate and forge. This prompted gaming houses to put their efforts to branding these pieces with unique symbols or their initials. Nonetheless, forgery remained an issue, making companies seek alternatives. By the late 1800s, the chips were born, made using a clay composition, ultimately creating an entire industry and the modern game as we know it.
Individualization and Distinction
Clay chips in thousands of designs dominated the scene up until the early 1930s. After this time, different materials were used by manufacturers, from earthen materials like sand and chalk to synthetic materials like ceramic and plastic. The 1950s saw the last of clay tokens, and the use of other materials became common, as they were more durable and offered more security against duplication.
The edge spots stopped being painted, the effect was instead achieved by cutting out a slot and replacing it with a different colour of the same material. They are then compressed to form a seamless disc. Many high-stakes casinos in Las Vegas, Macau and Atlantic City started using unique inlay works for identification. They were part of the design before the different elements of the chips were fused together, making it impossible to remove and harder to counterfeit.
The casino chips of the 21st century are probably harder to forge than currency. Casino owners are aware that there is a huge market for their in-house currency, so various security measures go on into their construction. These include artwork of a particular resolution, custom colour combinations and distinctive edge spots. Some even include UV markings and holograms. Recent designs, such as those of Las Vegas’ Wynn Casino, even incorporate Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, making the maker’s mark impossible to replicate. Certain manufacturers are incorporating radio frequency, an audible tangent into the token, so the cashier can check if the poker gaming disc is authentic by using a simple hand reader.
Most establishments also have a confidential reserve stash of poker tokens, featuring a different design and markings. On suspicion of counterfeit activity, the standard load is replaced immediately by the reserve, until the doubts are put to rest. Also, with the exception of Nevada, social gaming establishments do not accept disc plaques of another casino.
With the growing trend of fanatics collecting these chips for souvenirs, several casinos, such as the Flamingo and the Hard Rock, have started coming up with various series of Poker chips. The “limited-edition” varied designs are used to commemorate different events. This encourages customers to retain certain chips, in-turn adding to the establishment’s profits.