The first casino chip I ever saved was from the Pacheco Inn after I lost $18 playing poker and saved two $1 chips. I was underage, but that never stopped me from cruising the poker rooms in Northern California or casinos at Lake Tahoe, and I always found chips to collect.
Now, as good as I think my memory is, I can’t remember if that monstrous size casino chip display at Harvey’s at Lake Tahoe was up before the blast (yeah, the casino got bombed on August 27, 1980) or after it was rebuilt, but afterward sounds right.
The collection was secured by Howdy Herz, whom I met a few years later, and it made me feel slightly better that other people collected chips, but it also left me bewildered at how so many chips could be used in Nevada. How could I get my own copies from clubs that were long since dead and buried under new casinos?
Fortunately, I was a college dropout with time on my hands. You can major in basketball, but finding a paying job in your selected degree program after school isn’t easy. Of course, that fancy way of saying I wasn’t that good is an intro to what I was better at – poker and blackjack.
A chance meeting with Kenny Uston, one of the world’s best blackjack strategists and players, led to a year of bopping around Nevada with trips to Atlantic City, Panama, and the Bahamas. I loved it.
I also loved gamblers, casinos, casino workers, owners, and all those gaming chips, old and new, so the next year I lived in Lake Tahoe (at my buddy Patrick Barry’s place) and then in Las Vegas and Sparks. Later I stayed in Reno, and after finding that poker paid the bills but didn’t convince the bank they should give me a home mortgage, I took a job at Harrah’s in Reno.
I kept playing poker in the casino and at Mel Chikato’s house, where we ate Mr. Salty pretzels, drank beer and soda, and laughed about our jobs. Mel built and drove demolition derby cars. He was ruthless, fearless, and funny as hell.
While Mel was searching for derby cars, I searched for old casino chips. Eventually, I hooked up with fellow chip maniacs (I mean collectors) like Bruce Landau, Howdy Herz, Steve Passalacqua, Archie Black, Dale Seymour, Skip, Terry, Robert, David, Doug – and so many friends and trading partners I can’t even list them all here.
The chip shows at the Minden Inn, clubs in Reno, and the monster shows in Las Vegas put on by the CCGTCC at the Aladdin and South Point always brought fresh faces, newly discovered chips, and much fun. Old casino chips are still valuable and a popular collectible. Over the years, I’ve collected a few things, including chips, dice, tokens, table layouts, ashtrays, and swizzle sticks.
While living in Reno, I had so much stuff that I had to open a retail outlet to store it all. My buddy Frank Beaty and I spent so much time opening baseball card packs that we had to partner on the cards and make sets with them. I think we both still have closets full of them.
I also spent most of my working career in the gaming industry, and I’ve recently ended my time at Casino Arizona, where I was treated so well that it was hard to leave. But Hawaii called. My family has lived on the islands since the 1980s, and the Big Island was an excellent choice for us to settle down.
If I ever finish clearing our property, working on the house, and pruning the lychee trees, I’ll let you know what it’s like to slow down.
Well, that would probably be after I stop writing – but I don’t know when that will be either. I just finished Vegas and the Chicago Outfit, and it’s available on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle. New week I’ll tell you more about it!