Casino chips, tokens a good bet for collectors

By Jesse Robitaille

This is the first story in a two-part series exploring casino collectibles.

Between casino chips, roulette tokens, slot tokens and the sought-after “Silver Strikes,” casino collectibles offer many ways for numismatists to up the ante with their collections.

Part of a fast-growing hobby, collectors of gaming memorabilia – everything from chips to tokens, dice, slot cards, playing cards, rewards cards, matchbooks and even room keys – have organized under the banner of the Casino Collectibles Association (CCA), formerly known as the Casino Chip and Gaming Tokens Collectors Club.

“It’s like just about everything else in numismatics,” said CCA member Robb McPherson, of Brantford, Ont., who’s also the co-editor of the CCA’s quarterly publication, Casino Collectible News.

“There’s an endless amount of material you can collect.”

Part of a branch of numismatics known as exonumia (the collection of tokens, medals or scrip other than coins and paper money), casino chips date back to the 1800s and come in a variety of materials, including metal, plastic, ceramic and ivory.

“Casino tokens – also known as casino or gaming chips or checks – are small discs used in lieu of currency in casinos. They’re usually coloured metal, compressed clay or molded plastic of varying denominations and they’re used primarily in table games,” said McPherson, who’s also the second vice-president of the Silver Strikers Club and the past president and treasurer of the Ontario Numismatic Association.

“You can collect them in so many ways—by topic, for topical collectors, but also by denomination or by casino or area,” he said, adding most chips weigh between eight grams and 10.5 grams.

“But it’s not only casino tokens and chips. There are slot tokens, which were replaced by tickets in the ‘ticket-in-ticket-out’ system in the early 2000s; route tokens, which are a form of slot token; and a big thing I collect, silver strikes.”

They first piqued McPherson’s interest in 2008, when he visited Las Vegas’ Four Queens – a resort and casino near the Las Vegas Strip – and saw the Silver Strike machine, a form of slot machine.

He then found the “Chip Guide” – billed as the largest online reference site for casino chips and tokens – and soon after joined the CCA.

“Our association has about five different displays set up in Las Vegas,” he said, adding the first one was at the El Cortez – one of the earliest and long-running casino-hotels in the city – with others at the Plaza, Mob Museum, Neon Museum and more.

McPherson’s collection includes a complete set of chips issued by the now-defunct McPherson Casino in St. Albert, a suburb of Edmonton, Alta. The denominations include 50 cents, $1, $5 and $25.

MORE THAN 200 CANADIAN CASINOS

North of the border, in McPherson’s home country of Canada, there are currently more than 200 licensed casinos operating across Canada.

While Ontario has more than 70 casinos and the largest – the Montreal Casino – is in Québec, both the Northwest Territories and Newfoundland and Labrador have none.

“That’s changing constantly,” said McPherson, “and we’re trying to find all of this stuff out. If you know information about something closing or opening, it’s good to contact somebody in our ‘Chip Guide’ so we can update our information.”

Casinos in Canada and the United States are regulated by province or state (rather than by the feds), and some provinces and states allow Indigenous communities to operate casinos on their own territory—even if the government forbids it on government-owned land.

Among the Canadian casinos is a defunct operation in St. Albert, a suburb of Edmonton, Alta., known as the McPherson Casino.

“It’s spelled exactly the same as my last name, so I contacted the owners but we’re not related.”

Opened in 1990, the McPherson Casino was originally located in the Sandman Inn but later re-located to 24 Boudreau Rd., where it was called the Gold Dust Casino. The latter establishment also closed and became the Apex Casino, which has also since been taken over by Century Casinos.

“I have a set of all the chips issued by the McPherson Casino,” he said, adding there are four denominations (50 cents, $1, $5 and $25).

Another company – Pure Canadian Gaming – uses a generic chip for all four of its Alberta-based casinos, including in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Yellowhead.

“It’s probably a cost-savings thing for them.”

He also showed “everyday, use-at-the-table” chips, including one from Red Deer’s Jackpot Casino, which issued a commemorative chip for its 10th anniversary.

“They can be tough to find sometimes; some casinos, like the Hard Rock, put out limited chips two or three times a year, but smaller casinos might only do one.”

Overall, older chips – mostly from the previous century – are more difficult to find owing to casino owners’ method of destroying its obsolete issues. Previously, when casinos in Las Vegas closed, their chips were buried beneath the building before it was demolished.

“You’re not going to be able to get at them because there’s thousands of tons of concrete on top, and all that’s available on the market are whatever tokens people took from the casinos before they closed.”

McPherson (right) receives a certificate from Scott Douglas, then education chair of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA), at last year’s RCNA Convention in Calgary.

ROULETTE CHIPS AND MORE

McPherson also delved into roulette chips, including one from the former Frontier Casino in Calgary.

“All casinos do something similar with roulette chips, which are usually different colours with the same symbol,” he said, adding some are more intricate while others use a simple design.

“You can always tell a roulette chip because it will not have a denomination on it. They’re tougher to get, too, because when you buy in, they only give you a certain colour and there are a handful of colours to collect.”

He also referenced chips “with something like a coin in the centre,” including one example from the Fremont Casino in Las Vegas.

“There are also no-cash-value chips, which are used for different types of promotions and tournaments,” he said, showing an example from the Luxor Casino, which is also in Las Vegas.

Some casinos have even added hidden designs only visible under a blacklight as an anti-counterfeiting measure.

“It’s one security feature casinos use,” he said, “but surprisingly, not many of them have done this. I’ve only seen a handful of casinos use this technology to stop counterfeiting.”

In the next issue of CCN, this series’ second story will highlight slot and route tokens, including the sought-after ‘Silver Strikes.’

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