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Collectible Casino Chips

Collectors Turn to Casino Chips, Seeking Fun, Profit and a Link to Gambling History Through These Fascinating and Colorful Pieces of Clay and Plastic That Don't Lose Their Value Even After They Leave the Gaming Table
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 4)

Bud Jones uses an injection-mold process. Instead of squeezing the chips, the process works by injecting plastic material around preformed lettering, denominations and patterns. This creates fine geometric patterns around the edge and rim of the chip. Bud Jones is also well known for its metal inlay chips, which have a metal "coin" embedded into the center.

Chipco's chips are made of an injection-molded ceramic material in one-piece construction. They usually have a non-slip sandpaper-like texture and are identified by full-color graphics that extend to the edge of the chip. Using a proprietary process, images are printed 5/1,000 of an inch deep into the chip's surface. Chipco chips are also known for stripes and designs on the rim, and the manufacturer is the only one to print denominations and lettering on the rims.

Paul-Son and Bud Jones credit Chipco with revolutionizing the chip business and fueling the collector market by introducing the first chips with full-color, photo-like graphics.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would blossom into the industry it has or begin to command the dollar value that collectors were willing to pay," says Chipco president John Kendall.

"We didn't make chips like that; they forced us to do it," Paul-Son senior vice president of sales Lou DeGregorio says about Chipco. "But when we saw where it was going with the market we moved fast. We painted a bull's-eye on them."

So did Bud Jones, who is bemused by all the attention casino chips have received in recent years. "I wish I had one of every chip I ever made," says Jones, who got into the business 50 years ago hand-drilling dice for a long-defunct company. The company is the world's leader in casino dice, and all Bud Jones-manufactured dice are hand-drilled to this day. "If I had, it would have dawned on me 10 years ago to retire."

Though few have played a greater role in the manufacture of casino chips, Jones has never been a collector himself and has no intention of starting today. "It's kind of like the postman going for a walk on his day off," he says. Jones, who along with his wife, Jean, was one of the first two inductees into International Gaming & Wagering Business magazine's hall of fame, isn't complaining, though. Casinos buy his chips for 59 cents to 75 cents each, making the company anywhere from $2,950 to $3,750 for every commemorative chip ordered in an edition of 5,000.

It's not the chip makers that are profiting the most from chip collectors, however. It's the casinos. For every $5 chip that walks, the casino earns more than $4 in pure profit. The El San Juan casino in Puerto Rico is believed to be the first casino to have bought a chip that ended up walking in major quantities. In November 1988, the casino ordered 15,000 $1 chips from Chipco that portrayed a person bouncing a beach ball in front of palm trees and the ocean.

"Those chips would normally last five years," says Kendall. "Within 30 days the casino ordered another 15,000. Six months later they ordered another15,000." And a market was born.

Caesars in Atlantic City is acknowledged as the first casino to introduce a commemorative chip to the boardwalk. The casino needed a new set of chips because of a counterfeiting problem, and also turned to Chipco. "In 1991 we were in a recession and looking for any conceivable way to improve performance," says Edward Sutor, Caesars' senior vice president of finance. "Here was a way to solve our problem of needing new chips and increasing our revenue. It's exceeded all of our expectations."

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