The Lure of Casino Chips

What is it exactly that makes people collect casino chips? Is it the round shape? After all, who hasn’t taken a coin of some type and flipped it – heads, tails, heads, tails…………that’s got to be a universal urge. But chips, I’m not sure.

The fact that you can hold a chip in your hand helps, and it represents money, or better yet, it represents the quest for more money, easy money. That one little chip can be transformed into a lot more. Hell, “Tree Top” Jack Straus turned the phrase “a chip and a chair” into reality when he won the 1982 World Series of Poker Championship after being nearly busted early in the tournament.

Straus was down to just one $500 chip before doubling up several times and eventually winning the largest paying single sporting event in history (at the time), some $520,000. That chip must have been magical! And that’s how I feel about all the chips I collect.

Every chip I have is special for some reason. Some, only because I like the look of the chip, or because I traded it with somebody special (I have a few ugly chips I like because Bruce Landau or Doug Saito and I haggled over them at some point). Others are from casinos where I played a little poker or blackjack, even winning sometimes.

However, the main reason I love casino chips is that they represent the casino itself: the history of the casino and the people who built gaming. When I hold a chip from the Calneva at North Shore Lake Tahoe circa 1930, I know who was in the club and running things at the time.

I know Bill Graham or Jim McKay probably authorized that chip, and I know their own history. I know movie stars like Clara Bow played in the club at the time – and could have even touched that very chip. How could that connection be any more intoxicating?

Don’t collect chips? Well, there is still time for you to turn your life around. Maybe you already collect old dice, postcards, ashtrays or some other casino memorabilia – and you probably get the same excitement as I do with the chips. Or maybe you don’t. Perhaps you should give it a try.

Go ahead, I dare you.

Old Friends

I’ve been cleaning out the closets – opening boxes and sifting through a lot of old papers. Having collected casino items for thirty years now, you can imagine that I’ve met a lot of people in the hobby. Some of them I met at collector shows, like the one that the chip collectors club CC&GTCC puts on. Others through my ads in Coin World and Numismatic News in the early 1980s.

I was living in Sparks, NV, and trading with a few local fellows when I got a letter from a guy in New York. We traded a couple chips, and then we exchanged phone numbers. Amazingly, the next week this dude with a heavy New York accent called and told me that he was going to be in town. Well, it seemed a bit strange, but I gave him my address and sure enough, he showed up.

The night he arrived, there was a loud knock on the door, and I was greeted by a tall fellow with a bit of a crazed look on his face (yeah, your typical chip collector). He was very friendly, but I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head. We talked, and I showed him a few racks of trader chips and he picked out a big handful (we had no price guides, no idea about scarcity or worth – we just collected, and it was great).

Now my new friend, Bruce Landau, kept talking while looking at the chips he wanted, and then he fished into his briefcase and came out with two stacks to match the one stack he had picked, and said, alright – lets trade your one stack for my two stacks. Done deal.

He was generous, funny, and even more of a chip fanatic than I was. Bruce worked for Bogen photo (Vice President of Sales & Marketing) and had a show going in Las Vegas, but he flew the 450 miles to Sparks & Reno to see me (and I imagine Howdy Herz and a few others). He made me feel special, and not so silly for collecting chips.

We saw each other at chip shows, and he dropped by my house on a regular basis for twenty years – a good friend. I found some pictures and his business card and a couple letters with some items I saved to trade him while I was cleaning. We never got to make the last trade because he passed away a while back.

A lot of the joy of collecting went with him, and I miss the big guy. When he visited, he liked to tease my daughter and tell her he knew me before she was born. She now has a daughter of her own.

Life moves on and I still collect, but I haven’t been to a chip show for a couple of years. Guess I need to get out more.

Thanks for reading – Al W. Moe.

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