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Thread: The Rise and Fall of Ceramic Casino Chips

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    The Rise and Fall of Ceramic Casino Chips

    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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  2. #2
    question if you know alpha...sorta on the same line of this post...

    whats the deal with the Borgata chips? are they the only casino who has chips that are made like that and what the hell are they made of? they have some metallic insert if i'm not mistaken...just curious because they are on one hand cool as hell, but on the other hand they're annoying as fuck because theyre hard as hell to shuffle while playing poker...

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    Bronze alpha1243's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GambleBotsChafedPenis View Post
    question if you know alpha...sorta on the same line of this post...

    whats the deal with the Borgata chips? are they the only casino who has chips that are made like that and what the hell are they made of? they have some metallic insert if i'm not mistaken...just curious because they are on one hand cool as hell, but on the other hand they're annoying as fuck because theyre hard as hell to shuffle while playing poker...
    GambleBot,

    Thanks for the question. These chips usually bring louder complaints from dealers than players. I'm going to give you more information than you need, but being over informed can sometimes be a good thing. The short answer is: No, that center ring is only a metallic looking sticker, and these chips are more difficult to shuffles because of the innovative shape of the chip -- known as a speed chip. Read on for the long answer.

    Here's the Borgata chip you're talking about for those that have not played there before. This is their first generation speed chip.

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    $1 Borgata 1st generation speed chip

    Bud Jones, one of the casino chip manufacturers now part of GPI, makes the chips for the Borgata. These are made by an injection molding process. Large poker rooms on the west coast, like Bay 101, Commerce, and Hollywood Park use Bud Jones chips too, but only the Hollywood Park chip is a speed chip design. So players in that room who have handled their chips may feel the same as you. (Note the Bud Jones BJ logo on the Bay 101 chip.)

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    Bud Jones chips used in CA poker rooms

    I believe that Bud Jones chips are the best chips for poker. Why?

    The problem with traditional Paulson clay chips are that they collect dirt and bacteria rather quickly. Not only does this look disgusting and unsanitary, but the chips stick together causing problems for players and staff alike.

    Side note: This reminds me of a story that Phil Laak retold in a poker magazine article. Players at his table were discussing how disgusting the clay poker chips were. Some said that they would not eat at the table and handle the chips at the same time because they were so filthy. One player was adamant that they were not all that bad. Phil slide him a stack of $5 chips and said that he could have as many as he could fit into his mouth. The guy grabbed a handful and shoved them into his pie hole, earning himself the chips and making onlookers gag in disgust.

    Clay chips also wear over time -- the edges start to round and the chip itself starts to become thinner. They will eventually wear so thin that you can easily fit a stack of 21 chips into a rack. This is an obvious issue at the cage. Poker players who have played with old clay chips know these problems. Casinos can buy chip cleaning machines, and while they do a fair job of removing the grime, the chips don't remain clean for long and the cleaning expedites the wear of the clay. Lastly, there was a rumor going around a couple years ago that lead used in the clay chips -- either as part of the material itself or the pigment used to color the clay -- caused a health risk. The public thought that players in contact with these clay chips for extended periods of time might develop symptoms of lead poisoning. The levels were so low, and the exposure so short, that this outcry quickly subsided. Ok, enough about issues with clay chips. The problems with ceramic chips were outlined in the original post.

    So why are the Bud Jones chips best? Their surface doesn't attract grime, the chips never wear thin or chip, and the markings in the plastic (denomination and insert colors) cannot easily be altered. Let's look at this last feature. We've all heard of stories of players trying to scam casinos by altering chips. It's not too difficult to take a white $1 chips and a little paint or nail polish, and turn it into a $100 chip. Remember, you only have to doctor the edges and sides so it can be passed off in a rack of other $100 chips to profit. This can easily be done with clay chips. Thieves have taken this a step further with ceramic chips. The surface can be wiped clean by applying the appropriate chemicals then a scan of a $100 chip can be taken and printed onto the surface. While they won't pass when on edge in a rack, you can pass them off at the poker tables or some pit games since players and dealers aren't always looking for counterfeits.

    Wait, you might recall that there was a counterfeit chip scam during the Borgata Winter Poker Open a couple years ago. How could this be? Well, casinos almost always try and save money when ordering tournament chips. Remember, tournament chips cannot be redeemed at the cage and have no monetary value -- not even a $ sign on the chip. Because of this, casinos routinely use cheaper chips in their tournaments with plain inlays and no colored inserts (edge spots). These chips can much more easily be counterfeited. Here are the tournament chips in use at the Borgata -- cheap clay chips.

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    Borgata clay tournament chips

    This isn't to say that the Bud Jones chips aren't without their problems. Manufacturers like GPI are always looking to improve their chips, either by adding UV security markings and RFID chips, by creating brighter, longer lasting colors, or by offering custom molds and shapes. This last innovation applies to the Borgata chips and is the root of your complaint. Bud Jones created an improved shape chip, called a speed chip. You're familiar with the Borgata speed chips. The next time you're at the tables look at the chip's surface. It's concave, not flat like a clay or ceramic chip. The center inlays (a sticker used in the manufacturing process) do not touch each other when stacked. One benefit is that the center inlay will not wear, so the denomination, Atlantic City Borgata logo, and glitter ring (it only looks metallic) will last longer. But that's a side benefit. Speed chips get their name because the concave shape reduces friction between the chips when dealers stack and count out the chips. Bud Jones figured that if counting the chips were easier for the dealers, this would speed up the games and earn the casinos fractionally more profit. This is the same reason that speed chips are more difficult for poker players to shuffle.

    The Borgata actually has 3 types of $1 chips in play. Have you ever noticed this? Their 1st issue rack was Bud Jones first generation. The surface of the plastic was smooth...too smooth. Dealers complained that the chips were too slick to stack easily. One casino, the Isle of Capri in Biloxi, MS, (now the Golden Nugget), used speed chips when they reopened after hurricane Katrina. They lasted less than 9 months on the tables before being replaced by Paulson clay chips because of dealer complaints.

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    $1 Isle of Capri speed chip (left) and clay chip (right)

    The second generation speed chip solved this problem by adding a fine hatched texture to the surface of the chip. This increased the friction, making the chips more manageable. The 3rd type of Borgata $1 chip was simply a change to the injection design of the mold, replacing two of the $1 denomination markings with the stylized B of Borgata. To us casino chip collectors, this represents 3 different chips, so many of us have all 3 in our collections. (In fact, I was playing at the Borgata when the 2nd generation chips were introduced and was able to bring these new chips to the attention of the casino chip collecting community.)

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    $1 Borgata 2nd generation speed chips

    While I firmly believe that these Bud Jones chips are best suited for poker, this doesn't mean that they are without their problems. The center inlay is just a sticker applied during the manufacturing process. Given enough heat, and a little Goo Gone, the sticker can be removed. Unscrupulous chip sellers will replace it with a sticker from a $5 chip and call is an error chip in the hopes of scamming some uneducated collector.

    Thanks for the questions and good luck shuffling those Borgata speed chips.

     
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  4. #4
    thanks for the reply alpha, very interesting shit...

    haven't been down to AC in a few years to play poker because I just go to parx but I will give Borgata this, those chips are great because they don't look like somebody has shit all over them like some of the clay chips I have played with...guess that's why Borgata is the premier property in AC, they go the whole way in not trying to be scummy like the rest of the shithole AC...

  5. #5
    Alpha, your casino chip posts are top notch. When I read them I often wonder if you contribute to any poker magazines ~ if such things still exist.

    Years ago Bluff or similar would surely have paid for this content. It's that good.

    Sticky clay chips when food was still served table side. We wouldn't riffle chips - we spent our time seeing how many chips we could lift by pressing down and lifting from the top.

    I do miss my chicken fingers and ranch dressing delivered to the table at Foxwoods.

    Question:
    5+ years ago Foxwoods recalled their old chips. The new chips alledgedly had embedded RFID. How does the casino utilize this technology day to day?

    Keep up the posts!
    Last edited by Sanlmar; 12-15-2016 at 03:08 PM.

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    Bronze alpha1243's Avatar
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    Sanlmar,

    Thanks for your comments. I wrote an article for Ante Up Magazine in 2008 about casino chip collecting. It appeared in their November issue -- the one with Chino Rheem on the cover. I was only their 3rd issue. Here's the link: Chips Ahoy! (page 24). I had envisioned writing a recurring series of articles, but just never had the time.

    After that article appeared I was approached by Rounder magazine in the 2009. I wrote 2 articles on poker for them but the magazine went under before they could be published. The slant of the articles were a perspective by a local playing at a local card room written as a sort of trip report. When I read your question I looked on my computer to see if I still had the articles. I do. I had forgotten all about them. They're obviously dated. Remember, that was 2009. Plus, Florida still had a $100 max buy-in across all poker games -- even the $5/$10 games. I'll think about posting them in the forum. After all, Rounder never paid for them, so they're mine.

    I can relate to trying to pick up a stack of grimy clay chips. I've gotten 5 to stick together routinely. Pretty disgusting.

    As for the Foxwoods rack, yes, they replaced their rack. Most large casinos actually have 2 racks. One is in circulation and the 2nd is a back-up just in case the primary rack gets compromised. I don't think that this was the problem at Foxwoods. They started with a pretty simple $1 chip then moved to one with a larger inlay (the inlay material doesn't attract as much dirt as the exposed clay). Their 3rd issue used a multi-color 2-sided design that actually included the name of the casino. Can you imagine that the name was omitted from the first 2 designs! Then when MGM got involved they issued their current rack of chips. All 4 are shown below.

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    Issued in 1992

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    2nd issue chip

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    3rd issue chip with name and logo

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    Current rack in play since 2008

    RFID is not an inexpensive security feature to add to your chips. Therefore, casinos only have RFID in their high denomination chips -- usually $500 or $1,000 and above. They want to protect these chips from being counterfeited. Since there are fewer high denomination chip they aren't ordering all that many RFID chips to begin with. When you go to the cage to cash out these chips, the cashier has an RFID reader. This can be as inconspicuous as an area on the counter where she can set the chips. The reader can count 20-chip stacks and provide an accurate total. If you try slipping in a counterfeit it won't register (or if you doctored a $500 chip to look like a $5,000 chip, it will read only $500 to the cashier). Naturally, GPI would like casinos to make better use of RFID across the casino. Readers embedded under the tables can count/verify bets to stop counterfeiting in the pit as well as cheats trying to past post or bet cap. Also, with RFID in the tables, casino hosts can monitor your play exactly -- no more having to check every 30-60 minutes and estimate your action. If you're interested in learning more about RFID you can go directly to GPI and check out their RFID webpage.

    Hope this helps answer your question and good luck stacking those nasty chips at Foxwoods.

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    Speaking of Foxwoods, it reminded me of my first trip there. It was opening weekend. The one odd thing I remember is that players at the blackjack tables were playing 3 deep. That means that the 1st player was sitting at the table making their usual bets inside the betting circle. A 2nd player was standing behind them and placing their bet just to the right of the circle. They could bet larger or smaller, but the hand was played by the 1st player. All decisions -- stand, hit, double down, etc. -- were made by the 1st player. And then a 3rd player was standing behind the 2nd player with their bets to the right of the 2nd player's. I have never seen anything like it since. Opening weekend was crazy.

  8. #8
    I remember idle speculation about tables having RFID readers to accurate track and rate your action. I don't think that was ever the case. More of a casino's dream.

    Guys used to ask friends to cash part of their winnings at the cage to dodge the tax thing. I remember someone nervous just after the swap in 2009 that a particular big RFID chip might be attributed to a particular player. Such is paranoia. Certainly not an issue at craps which is where the big action was (no way to implement table reader).

    I was at Foxwoods extensively in 2007. It was madness. Two or three deep definitely happened then too. The whole etiquette of betting behind someone was always interesting. It was the one display of respect & cordiality that you would find at normally nasty blackjack tables.

    Enjoying your thread a lot

  9. #9
    Nice thread. The Commerce Casino $1 and $5 poker chips always felt like they were magnetic to me.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by alpha1243 View Post
    Speaking of Foxwoods, it reminded me of my first trip there. It was opening weekend. The one odd thing I remember is that players at the blackjack tables were playing 3 deep. That means that the 1st player was sitting at the table making their usual bets inside the betting circle. A 2nd player was standing behind them and placing their bet just to the right of the circle. They could bet larger or smaller, but the hand was played by the 1st player. All decisions -- stand, hit, double down, etc. -- were made by the 1st player. And then a 3rd player was standing behind the 2nd player with their bets to the right of the 2nd player's. I have never seen anything like it since. Opening weekend was crazy.
    That is how Paigow Poker is in California. You might have 10 different people betting on the same spot. The largest wager gets to check the cards and makes the final decision. A few years ago, I had several Asians piggybacking on my spot at Hawaiian Gardens and I ended up splitting aces because I had the biggest bet. It won and they were happy but I am sure I would have never heard the end of it if it lost.

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    Bronze alpha1243's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by snake_in_the_ass View Post
    Nice thread. The Commerce Casino $1 and $5 poker chips always felt like they were magnetic to me.
    Snake,

    The Commerce has gone through 5 racks since they opened in 1983. Their progression of $1 chips is shown below. The first clay chip was made by Paulson and the rest by Bud Jones. Bud Jones was originally noted for their unique "Coin-in-Center", or CIC, chips. Lots of Las Vegas casinos used CIC chips. These chips weighed a little more and felt substantial. The metal was not magnetic. Can you imagine the problems they would have is someone magnetized the metal cores! I'll write a post on CIC chips in the future.

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    Original clay Paulson $1 chip

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    Bud Jones "CIC" $1 chip

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    Latest Bud Jones plastic $1 chips

    The newer plastic Bud Jones chips do not have a metal weight inside them like some of the cheaper generic home game ABS plastic chips produced in China. You've probably seen the more common Dice and Suited molds shown here. Those cores are attracted to magnets.

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    Generic Chinese poker chips

    I suspect that the Commerce chips "feel magnetic" is because they are not speed chips like those at the Borgata or Hollywood Park. Their flat surfaces feel sticky due to surface friction and a slight static created by the material -- kind of like when you rub a balloon on your hair and it "sticks" to the ceiling. The older CIC chips can also feel magnetic due to the surface of the coin in the center. But, to check it out yourself, bring a small magnet to the Commerce next time and see if you can pick up and of the chips.

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