The colored plastic poker chips you use in your games with friends at home are not the same thing as genuine casino chips. Those have had a long history of development and design, often in response to security issues. They started out by replacing the haphazard methods that poker players had for gauging their winnings in the early games in the mid-19th century, in Midwestern bars and on American steamboats. Random coins and gold nuggets gradually gave way to the standardized clay poker chip sets.
These chips were first made of various materials such as wood or ivory, but the casino poker chips of a clay-based composition soon came to predominate. These were made in high-pressure compression-molding machines. In recent times, though clay-ceramic mixtures are still used to create some chips, the more usual production method involves injection-molded resin chips. And a recent innovation in the design of casino chips involves either a metal center with a plastic rim, or chips entirely of metal. The standardization makes chips easier to stack on a table, easier to keep track of, and easier to count (or weigh) when it comes time to cash in a player’s winnings.
The design of casino chips has always continually been embellished and perfected in response to security issues. In the early days, players could easily cheat by sneaking their own chips into games. But once the casinos developed their own custom designed poker chips that became harder to do. Now there are security features such as markings that only show up under ultraviolet light, or radio frequency ID tags that make the chips harder to counterfeit. And of course, almost since its adoption in casinos, clay poker chip designs incorporate distinctive artwork and custom colors.
These security measures may not be enough, however, in this high tech age. Casino chips, even with current security features, may eventually disappear. Token-counting windows have already given way in many cases to machines that receive the chips and eject a receipt that is taken to a cash window. But now there are a few experiments involving a pre-paid money card, used with a reader right at the gaming table. It’s possible that if this catches on, the long, interesting history of the casino poker chip may come to a close, leaving nothing but stories and the aura of a legend.
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