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The Rise and Fall of Ceramic Casino Chips

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For decades, the leader in casino chip manufacturing was Paulson. Their logo is the iconic "Hat & Cane". This logo can be found on the clay mold of many of their chips or within the inlay. Paulson is now part of the larger Gaming Partners International, or GPI for short, which also owns B&G and Bud Jones.

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$1 Pioneer with H&C mold (left) and $1 TI with H&C logo on inlay (right)

Gamblers and poker players alike associate quality casino chips with the clay Paulson product. There was a time when every casino in the United States (i.e. Nevada in those days) used a clay chip. Odds were good that they were made by Paulson. The chips varied in color, but the bulk of the inlay contained a "Hot Gold Stamp" of chip's denomination and the casino name and/or location as there wasn't much room for anything else. You may have handled several of the chips shown below.

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Hot Gold Stamp designs gave way to colored paper inlays

But that all changes in the 1990's. A small company in Maine set out to revolutionize the casino chip market by offering a ceramic chip as an alternative to the traditional clay chips. These ceramic chips would have 2 primary advantages: the entire surface could be imprinted upon and they would be offered at a lower price. This company was ChipCo International. Their sales force would lead their pitch with their unique ability to print the casino logo, or any other graphic, on the entire chip. Better brand recognition would lead to customer growth. Some of the early ChipCo adopters were in the burgeoning Colorado market. The casino department responsible for their chip programs employed graphic artists who created several colorful and dynamic casino chips. A few $1 chips are shown below.

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A variety of colorful $1 Colorado casino chips

ChipCo was also able to etch the ceramic surface of the chip. Individually numbered chips could be offered in limited numbers in the hopes that patrons would take them home as souvenirs. Again, Colorado latched on to this idea and produced numbered sets to commemorate the millennium.

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085 from The Lodge, 079 from Bull Durham, and #269 from Creeker's

Finally, since even the edges of the ceramic chips had to be printed, ChipCo came up with the gimmick of "The Stacker". These chips, when stacked just so, would reveal another graphic. This meant that patrons would have to take home several chips in order to see the picture on the edges of the chips. Below is one of the few $1 stacker sets produced for the Lucky Strike casino in Central City, CO. Five different $1 chips were produced (one chip for each card in a royal flush) and when they were stacked an image of the suits could be constructed.

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Face of each $1 chip in the set

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Edge graphics revealed once stacked

A few other stacker sets were produced by ChipCo. One for the former Copa Casino in Gulfport, MS, combined six $5 chips in their millennium series.

As the company grew, more and more casinos across the U.S. replaced their racks with ChipCo's ceramic chips. The designs were grand. Poker rooms eventually ran into issues with the ceramic chips. Due to poker players constant shuffling of the chips, their surface design quickly wore off. But it didn't stop there. As the graphic faded, the texture of the ceramic chip, once slightly rough like fine sand paper, wore smooth and became difficult to stack. This frustrated players, dealers, and casino cage employees alike. The ceramic chips also chipped or cracked from time to time and had to be retired.

But the final undoing of ChipCo International came in 2015 when their president, John Kendall, was found guilty on three felony counts of theft by misapplication of withholding taxes, one felony count of conspiracy to commit tax evasion, three misdemeanor counts of failure to account for or pay over withholding tax, and one misdemeanor count of making a false statement on a state income tax return. Although ChipCo closed its doors, Game On Chip Company picked up the reigns and continues to produce the same quality ceramic chips today, replacing ChipCO's "CI" logo with their "GO" logo in the outline of a spade.

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$1 Choctaw Casino chips with CI logo (left) and GO logo (right)
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  1. blubbernuffle's Avatar
    These stories are great. I've been sharing them with friends. Keep it up