The History of Casino Chips

Casino tokens, also frequently referred to in the U.S. as chips or cheques, are so synonymous with casinos and gaming that the mere sight of them evokes an array of emotions and mental images for most Americans. Although a casino chip is essentially just a small disk of clay and other composite materials, the literal and figurative value we’ve assigned them as a culture really does make them something unique and special.

The Complex Nomenclature: Are They Tokens, Chips, Checks or Cheques?

Although often used interchangeably, many sources assign specific definitions to each term.

  • In a casino, checks or cheques are essentially chips that can be exchanged for currency. These cheques should be printed with their monetary value as well as the casino’s name.
  • Tokens were commonly made of metal and used for slot machines. Most modern slots no longer utilize tokens.
  • In a casino setting, the term chip often refers specifically to colored roulette chips that can’t be cashed in because their valuation varies and is determined by the table.

Despite all the technicalities, many people and even gambling pros still offhandedly refer to casino cheques and their variations simply as chips.

How Are Casino Chips and Cheques Manufactured?

There have been a number of methods and materials used to create gaming chips over the years. The precursor to gaming chips as we know them were the jetons, fiches and mils used in the 18th-century French game, Quadrille. In the game, these counters were each assigned a value to keep track of score.

In the 19th century, card games were a popular past-time in saloons, where gamblers wagered things like small pieces or nuggets of gold or silver as well as coins and paper currency. The problem with these types of wagers was the lack of standardization. How does one player know the little chunk of gold or silver another player is wagering is legitimate or worth the same as the paper currency he or she is betting? The saloons and gambling houses where these games were being played soon began creating tokens crafted frоm bone or ivory and eventually chips handmade frоm a composite of clay, paper and shellac, somewhat like today’s chips.

In approximately 1880, chip manufacturers started crafting uniform clay chips using compression molding. These chips looked a lot like the chips used today, but they were significantly more fragile due to the material used. It wasn’t until the ‘50s that manufacturers began adding other materials to strengthen the formula, including substances like sand and chalk.

Today’s chip manufacturers are secretive about their specific formulas, as they’re considered proprietary trade secrets that differentiate their chips frоm competitors’ chips.

Modern manufacturing is significantly more complex. For example, the different colored lines or spots along the edges of chips aren’t just painted, they’re the same material with different coloring. During the manufacturing process, some of the base clay is strategically removed frоm those spots and replaced with different colored clay before being cut into the circular tokens. Inlays and printed graphics are then applied and covered with a thin coating of plastic for added durability.

The various inlays, color variations along the edges, logos and now radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags inserted or applied to casino chips and cheques make modern casino chips very hard to forge.

RFID Cheques

The latest anti-forgery technology baked into modern casino chips are RFID tags, which can be embedded during the manufacturing process. Casinos get several benefits frоm these cutting-edge tags:

  • They make counterfeiting nearly impossible, because even the most detail-oriented counterfeiter likely won’t have the technology to not only create an accurate RFID tag but then update the casino’s own records to make sure the chip looks like it has a legitimate casino serial number.
  • If chips are stolen the serial numbers of the RFID tags can be flagged and disabled so they can no longer be cashed.
  • The chips allow casinos to gather data on how people are playing. Some casinos have installed sensors underneath betting circles on tables so they can monitor average bet values.
  • This information isn’t just useful for monitoring dealer performance or tracking trends, it also helps staff determine appropriate comp levels for players. Wager data can also be combined with traditional security tracking methods to identify potential cheaters or other illicit schemes.

Get a Stack of Chips in Your Hands by Visiting Snoqualmie Casino

If you’re in the Seattle area and reading about casino chips has got you dreaming of building a stack of your own, you’re in luck. Snoqualmie Casino is just a short drive east of town and offers the most authentic and exhilarating casino experience you can get without booking a flight to Vegas. With 1,700 slot machines and 54 classic gaming tables, you’ll find everything you need to embark on the exhilarating chase of that big win.