Casino chips have been in use for over two centuries, but the collecting of them only began to take hold as a hobby a little more than a decade ago. To a large extent, this is due to the expansion and growing popularity across the United States of gaming, including indian casinos, as well as the beautiful designs now being incorporated into contemporary casino chips.
Collectors of casino chips can generally be divided into two groups; those that collect historic, obsolete chips, and those who assemble collections of limited edition releases.
Obsolete Casino Chips
Aside from being, in many cases unbelievably rare, historic chips have stories to tell. For example, anyone who has seen the movie "Bugsy" (the gangster, not the rabbit) or have studied early Las Vegas is familiar with its underworld roots. "Bugsy" Seigel's Flamingo opened the day after Christmas in 1946. The chip at right is one of the 35-40 survivors that were used on the tables on opening night and for a short while afterward. (Once the chips were retired and replaced with a different design, the old chips were often drilled and attached to keychains for sale in the gift shop.) To speculate that this chip may have been handled that first night by "Bugsy" (who would be "hit" by the mob six months later), or the many movie stars that attended (Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, to name a few) is the mystique that draws largely seasoned collectors.
Limited Edition Casino Chips
Limited Edition chips (like the three Millennium chips at left) are those that are produced by casinos specifically for the collector market. They are typically made in quantities of 100 to 5000, are beautifully rendered, and can usually be purchased in the casino at face value. However, casinos have discovered this manufactured collectible to be "easy money", and have gone overboard in issuing new designs at a feverish pace. Long time collectors are concerned that this will water down the market and give the speculator (a buyer of a large part of an issue who resells at inflated prices) a strong presence. Nevertheless, the L.E.s are some of the most attractive and compelling chips. It is usually with this type that most new collectors begin.
Purchasing casino chips can be done over the Internet from dealers (like those provided in the "Related Links" sidebar), at auction on eBay, or at casino chip conventions. Every July, there is a large convention sponsored by the nationwide Casino Chips and Gaming Tokens Collectors Club (CC>CC) that is held at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas which draws thousands of enthusiasts.
Finally, keep in mind that you should enjoy what you collect, and gain some knowledge and insight about the field before you hastily spend a lot of time and money. Books on collecting casino chips are available, and well worth the investment. It's no use getting burned in a new hobby and walking away with a chip on your shoulder...
instead of in your collection.
References: Barry Rosenberg/Cigar Aficionado - May/June 1998
The Official U.S. Casino Chip Price Guide - Campiglia/Wells