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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 5)

Not only did Caesars receive what it thought was a more secure chip, it discovered a sure-fire way to make money. Typically 90 to 95 percent of its commemorative chips walk. Caesars recently introduced one of the market's highest-denomination commemorative chips--a $25 anniversary chip in an edition of 50,000. When Caesars removed the chip from play, after about a year, only 900 remained. Taking into account the manufacturer's price of about 65 cents a chip, Caesars cleared a profit of nearly $1.2 million. "Every time one of the casinos' chips walks and doesn't get redeemed, it is like the casino writing a check that isn't cashed," says Black.

The Hard Rock casino in Las Vegas has become a big proponent of commemorative chips that feature photographs of rock musicians, and issues approximately one per month. "Hard Rock said they wanted funky-looking chips, so we worked with [owner] Peter Morton's design group, in Los Angeles, to come up with a line of chips," says DeGregorio. "They paid for all their casino equipment on profit they made on chips that walked out of the casino."

Harrah's Atlantic City, along with Caesars, was instrumental in issuing a special Miss America pageant chip that was jointly circulated in September 1997 by New Jersey's casinos--the first time all 12 banded together to issue a common chip.

Harrah's vice president of marketing, Susan Schneider, is a member of the pageant's board of directors, and she persuaded it to allow a photograph of the previous year's Miss America to grace one side of the commemorative chip. The obverse carried the name of the issuing casino. "We don't do it for the collector, we do it for our customers," says Schneider. "On the operations side it adds fun and excitement to the casino floor. But we realize the collector plays a part in this as well."

Even longtime holdouts against commemorative chips have decided they can no longer ignore the market. In December 1997, Steve Wynn's Mirage and Treasure Island casinos, which had never issued commemorative chips, came out with chips made by Paul-Son commemorating illusionists Siegfried & Roy and circus performers Cirque Du Soleil, respectively.

DeGregorio, for one, disputes the opinion that casinos are issuing too many different commemorative chips in editions that are too great in number. "Maybe there's not enough collectors," he observes. "There are two sides to the coin. If there were 10,000 collectors, then there wouldn't be enough chips."

To remedy the situation, Paul-Son has entered into a joint venture called Brand One with DeBartolo Entertainment to produce oversized, nongaming and nondenominational commemorative chips featuring sports figures from the National Football League, National Basketball Association and NASCAR auto racing. The first such chip, or trading disk as Paul-Son calls it, was produced in an extremely limited quantity in 1994 and given away to San Francisco Forty Niners' stadium superbox holders. (DeBartolo owns the Forty Niners.) The latest trading disk was manufactured for the May 1997 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. In the future, Paul-Son envisions the disks, which are made from the same material as its casino chips, being used as high-tech tickets to major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl. The disks, which would be imprinted with a variety of security features, would be kept by ticket holders as a memento. "We plan to go to the market and create the next collectible, and that market will be 50 times bigger than casino chips," says DeGregorio.

Whether that will be good for the traditional chip collector remains to be seen. What's assured is that many more people will be clamoring for a little piece of Havana, Vegas and Atlantic City in the coming years.

Barry Rosenberg is a New York-based journalist, specializing in business and technology. Cashing In

Many outlets serve the burgeoning army of chip collectors. To this day, most chip collectors do business by mail. While several retail stores are dedicated to chips and other gambling collectibles, primarily in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, dozens of individuals advertise their chips for sale in the back of the Casino Chip and Gaming Token Collectors Club's quarterly newsletter, in Gaming Times magazine or on the Internet.

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