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Old Reno Poker Tournament Chips Are Valuable

1960's Harrah's Chip
1960's Harrah's Chip
Photo Courtesy (Nevada Casino History)

Reno has a long history of great poker games, and players still come to The Biggest Little City in the World to try their hand at the game. The competition is good, the games are lively, and every casino in town with a poker room has some type of tournament going-on each week. Buy-ins run anywhere from $10 for a small tournament at the Club Cal Neva, to $1,100 at the upcoming Card Player event presented by the Atlantis.

Each poker room uses unique chips for their tournaments. There has to be a way to distinguish chips designed for tournaments from those used in the regular cash games, so there are often new varieties of chips available for chip collectors, although taking the chips home is discouraged by poker rooms. If you didn't know it, chip collecting is a very popular hobby, with thousands of people rummaging through antique stores, garage sales, and even hobby-oriented events like the huge chip show held each year at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas to find new-old chips for their collections.

While most Reno poker rooms use non-negotiable, tournament-only chips, that hasn't always been the case. In the past, some rooms like Harrah's, used their old, discontinued chips. They weren't any good at the cashier's cage since they had been replaced with newer chips on the regular casino tables, but they did have plenty of interest and value to collectors.

At Harrah's, where the Reno casino once had 102 table games and 12 poker tables, there were thousands of old chips lying around in the vault, training rooms and manager's offices, so the poker room manager rounded racks of them up and put them to use in early tournaments. When tournament players pocketed the chips and tried to cash them in at the cage, all of the chips were drilled, right through the middle, and then used in poker tournaments again.

The drilling left many of the chips slightly warped, and you couldn't stack-up more than a few without them falling over, but they were fine for the poker tournaments for a dozen years from the early 1980's. Those drilled chips aren't worth much compared to a perfect condition chips, but sometimes that's all collectors can find.

The blue $1 chip shown above was in use at the regular casino tables in the 1960's before the club switched to the heavy brass-core chips of the 1970's and 1980's. A single chip in nice condition sells for about $30. A $1 chip that has been drilled sells for just $5. However, other chips that have been drilled and sold as souvenirs are quite valuable.

There are very few chips remaining from the first opening of "Bugsy" Siegel's Flamingo in 1947, but some of the $5 chips were drilled and made into souvenir key chains. Because of their rarity, they sell for over $500. According to the Casino Chip and Gaming Token Collectors Club, non-drilled chips of the same variety in otherwise used condition have been known to sell for over $7,500. Boy, talk about inflation!