Think about it, a poker chip twirling in the hand of a slick card player or being thrown into the pot by a Las Vegas veteran. This image of poker chips is as iconic as the great game itself. So much so that the very sight of one can conjure up a thrill from avid players of the game. Yet, have you ever stopped to think about where these chips came from or how they’re made? If the answer is yes, let me draw your attention to the below.
Where Did Chips Come From?
Gambling in one form or another is one of the world's oldest and most valued pastimes. So, it might surprise some people to know that poker chips as we know them are a relatively new introduction. Before we had what we know as poker chips today, there were several variations of tokens that were used in their place during card games. These tokens used shapes to represent value and colours to represent ownership. Before this, players used to bet with gold bars, gold nuggets and even pinches of gold dust in place of chips. Honestly, we’re not sure which we would prefer to play with.
Yet, there were two core problems with this payment method. Firstly, it’s hard to fix a set value on these items. Furthermore, there certainly was a temptation to steal such a valuable pot, without actually winning the hand. Therefore the need for poker currency grew. Standardised tokens were seen to quell unnecessary arguments at the table. In the beginning, these tokens were inherently simple. Given their growing value, however, and the fact that they were easily replicated, added security measures were introduced. In today’s landscape, there are entire industries around making sure security is tight at the poker tables. Still, it all starts with the casino chips.
Real-world casinos have a long history with tricksters and thieves trying to hoodwink them out of their money. Throughout the generations, these fraudsters have only gotten more sophisticated and bold. While some use imaginative gadgets to facilitate their rouse, others have opted for constructing forged chips. Thieves tried passing these chips off in legitimate games as a method of exchanging them, while others mixed them with their real winnings to conceal them while cashing out of the casino. This of course was most common during the relatively early days when poker chips were a lot less high-tech. Nowadays, the level of security has risen to such a height that a subterfuge like this would be near impossible.
One of the first ways casinos protect themselves against chip fraud is through customisation. After all, the more intricate and unique the design, the less opportunity there is for forgery. Today, poker chips can come in an endless variety of colours, designs, logos and materials - each element put together in a one-of-a-kind combination for each casino. Even when multiple casinos are owned by the same company, their poker chips remain unique to that individual business.
However, not all chip security can be seen with the naked eye. A lot of casinos have taken to using radio frequency identification (RFID) in their high denomination chips. This technology allows them to track, deactivate or flag tagged chips. This is of course useful in many scenarios. For instance, if a chip is stolen is can be deactivated or flagged in the event someone tries to cash it in. Alternatively, RFID prevents players from sneaking extra chips into their stack once the game has begun and it prevents dealer fraud at the tables. Many casinos even have microchips embedded in their chips to make them distinguishable from others.
Poker chips made of clay were the standard in the 1800s until approx. the 1950s. This gave them a more high-end look and feel than the plastic chips that were being used previously. Still, they were considered quite fragile and players and operators alike yearned for something more long-lasting and sturdy. While today’s chips are made of much more durable material than clay, operators wanted them to have the same look and feel that poker enthusiasts were used to. Thus, modern chips are not made of clay, but a composite material meant to mimic the touch and feel of those style of chips. One key difference between these chips and previous versions is weight. The majority of composite clay chips are either 11.5 grams or 13.5 grams. This added weight allows them to be manoeuvred easily in a player’s hands, be it stacking or moving chips around the table.
Since the 1950s most casinos have moved on from composite to ceramic chips. These are of a much higher standard than their predecessors. They’re smoother, better quality, more durable. What’s more, graphics are printed directly onto the chip instead of using stickers like with clay chips. This allows for greater customisation with ceramic chips as they can be designed exactly to the owner's specifications. As outlined above, not only does this allow for a more high-end and distinctive looking chip but it also serves as a security measure for the casino. If you’re an avid visitor to brick and mortar casinos then ceramic chips are probably what you’re used to playing with. Within real-world casinos, ceramic chips are preferred because they slide well across the poker felt and given their make-up, make chip tricks even easier than the clay composite version. While these are common in casinos, customisable ceramic chips can be purchased online for the poker enthusiast who enjoys a home game.
For the truly discerning poker player, metal poker chips do exist. These aren’t like anything you would get at a regular casino but they certainly up the creativity quota if you’re looking to impress your poker loving friends. That said, these are not widely or easily available and you have to be willing to part with some serious coin to play with metal chips at your home table.
Poker Chip Gifts
With that said, a quick Google search will show that poker chip manufacturers across the globe are giving enthusiasts the chance to turn chips into personalised gifts. These chips come in a wide range of materials, designs and prices. For poker chips made of plastic, they can range from inexpensive, light materials to a softer, more high-end product. If you’re buying for a poker star with style, online stores now stock sterling silver, personalised chips. In reality, there’s no end to where manufacturers can go with this product. Of course, if you want to check out some inspired merchandise with poker theme imagery emblazoned on them, click here to view our Pokerist merch store.