Casino Chips, from Wood to Online
Cinematic depictions of cowboy poker playing are actually fairly accurate, where the most random — and, to today’s standards, comical — items were put on the table to bet with. These ranged from gold nuggets and even gold dust to horses and property. It was all fairly common in the Old West days of late 19th century America.
But before then, French players used what is possibly the earliest form of poker chips as we know them today. Rather than having various colors representing different values, they were different colors that represented the different players. When the game was over, those different colors determined who owed who how much. This was in the late 18th century, and they were not playing poker, but card games like Ombre and Quadrille.
As poker became more popular in the United States, it became apparent — especially when the “house,” which, in this case, would be saloons and hotels, wanted to profit from the gambling they hosted — that chips were needed to represent value rather than be valuable themselves. This also curbed theft, as all the valuables weren’t presented on the table. If you stole those chips and made off with them, you’d have to go back and cash them in to get you cash.
By introducing its own unique representations of value, the house was able to control the game, profit, create their own gambling brand, and didn’t have to have everyone bring in all their valuables and put them on the table in order to play the game.
But because these early representations were primitive, they were easily foraged. For example, if they used simple clay discs, it would be easy to pocket one, bring it home, make a bunch of copies, and come back to the house to cash in. This presented a whole new level of problems. To counter the foraging, the house started taking things a step further by creating ivory chips and branding them with difficult to replicate, unique insignias.
As the popularity grew and the demand became more apparent, not to mention the number of gambling spots hoping to make their mark but were susceptible to foraging, businesses opened to supply unique chips that new businesses were able to purchase in bulk. They came in a variety of different colors and symbols, and evolved into the standard look and feel we know today at land-based casinos.
Today, chips are not just used for playing poker or multi-player card games. Instead, they are used to play every non digital game at the casino in lieu of cash. Their different colors and symbols are made to represent both their value and the specific casino, and thanks to modern computers and scales, their replication is near impossible. In fact, chips now feature UV markings and even computer chips. Yep, a chip inside of a chip.
This all makes foraging pretty much a thing of the past.
But not only are chips now physically used for all the physical casino games, their familiarity has spanned to the online casino. Players are able to set the value of bets in games like poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, and others the same way they would in a physical casino. Rather than a computer chip inside of a casino chip, we have casino chips inside a computer chip. (Somebody get some dip!)
Chips make visualizing the value of bets easier, and it also adds to the realism features in the online casino. With a stack of chips in front of you at the table, or a big stack pushed back toward you after a win, it’s a lot more satisfying than your bankroll simply ticking up a few numbers. Call me petty, but that’s a major reason why I play at an online casino. From the comfort of home or from my mobile device, I can get in on the action, and minus the full bar and live entertainment, it feels pretty much like the real thing.
Casino chips have come a long way because the casino has come along way. From the back of saloons and unmarked French buildings to enormous spectacles of the Macau or Vegas strips, these fun palaces have taken on new meaning and have become iconic staples of the entertainment industry.
Now we can dive into the action digitally, with chips still just doing their job: representing value.