My Early Poker Games and Chips

I saved my first casino chip in 1978. Although I wasn’t old enough to legally play poker at the Pacheco Inn (now the California Grand), I managed to get away with a few hours of Low ball to start my playing career. I lost.

I didn’t go home completely empty-handed, because, from the $20 in chips that I started with, I still had three $1 chips in the pocket of my jeans as I drove home. I was disappointed since I had a job that paid $2.50 an hour, and a $20 crunch was more than a day’s pay after taxes.

On the other hand, I convinced myself that I had gone through a great learning experience, and decided to keep the chips forever, as a kind of tribute to my first poker game against what I thought were really tough players. After four years playing against my high school buddies who could blame me for being optimistic?

In fact, in the very first game I ever played for money as a freshman in high school, I was ahead almost $5 before by some strange turn of events I started losing hand after hand. By the end of the night my buddy, Barry Wilson, was losing $10. I was stuck $9.20 and had to give a marker to one of the big winners.

It was problematic that the player I gave the marker to was a senior, while I was just a freshman, but the real issue was that I had a crush on his 15-year old sister, Denise. When I scraped up the money, I walked over to their house and rang the doorbell, hoping Steve would answer.

Did he? Of course not. Denise opened the door, looked excited to see me, and then asked why I was there. When I explained that I had to see her brother, she gave me a strange look, called him, and then passed quick judgment on me as I paid Steve and got my marker back.

Denise said anybody that would play poker for money was stupid. Strangely enough, she wasn’t the only one. Denise completely dismissed me after the poker payoff debacle. I was heartbroken but got over it when I started beating the games I was playing in on a regular basis. ‘Twas not the case for my buddy, Barry.

Barry had to take a job at Village Inn Pizza to pay his poker loses at the tender age of 14. Plus, I lost the time we had spent together swimming, shooting pool, and watching him crash his bike, which was a regular occurrence. I will admit that one of the times it was because I threw a pool towel at his head, missed, and it landed in the spokes of his bike.

Immediately after that, the towel stopped his back tire, the bike skidded to a fast stop, and my friend Barry continued on – in the air – until gravity brought him back to earth.

He got up from the asphalt with burns on his arms and knees and never complained, just gave me a grin and pulled the towel out of the spokes and the chain. What a guy! I eventually took to calling him, Wipe-out Wilson. Cooking pizzas was probably a safer experience for him.

I rather enjoyed beating the seniors each week, but eventually, they stopped inviting me. My first barring. A number of casinos in Nevada would later add me to the list of 21 players they barred, but fortunately, they don’t exclude you for being a good poker player, and I’ve been able to supplement my income with poker winnings for the past thirty years.

As for those poker chips I saved from the Pacheco Inn, they were brown with a covered wagon on the inlay. The mold was a Hat & Cane (Christy & Jones Co.), and there was a $1 symbol on them – but no name.

When I made it up to Lake Tahoe in 1978, the first club I collected a chip from was the Park Tahoe. They were gray with a gold hot stamp in the middle with the “Park Tahoe – $1 – Stateline Nevada.” I love Las Vegas poker and the town’s poker games. There’s a lot of history there.

I was too cheap to save one of the red $5 chips with the coin inlay, but the rim of the $1 chips had four sets of dice and four sets of cards around it – made by the Nevada Dice company. I wrote Nevada’s Golden Age of Gambling after that. It’s about the casinos of Nevada from 1931 to 1981 – Kindle is free for Kindle Unlimited members.

Believe it or not, I still have one of each of those two early examples of now old (obsolete) casinos. That early trip also netted my a few chips from Harrah’s, Harvey’s, and the Sahara Tahoe. Every one of those chips is now worth some money ($5-$20 each), and whenever I saved chips, I saved more than one – and traded them with other collectors. It has been a lot of fun.

I’ve collected up and down the state of Nevada, and up and down The Strip in Las Vegas, from

Thanks for reading – Al W. Moe.


3 thoughts on “My Early Poker Games and Chips

Add yours

  1. Just read your story on Wipeout Wilson from your link. Pretty funny stuff. I had a friend named Barry also, so thought I\’d give it a check.


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