How Poker Chips Are Made
Whether you’re playing poker in Las Vegas, Macau, or in the UK, all casinos use poker chips. Don’t you find it quite weird that these chips sometimes represent values of thousands of pounds and sometimes even millions?
The reason casinos use chips, jetons, tokens, or coins, whatever you want to call them, has to do with safety and simplicity. Imagine what would happen when paper and coin money was placed on casino tables!
In this article, we are going to explain to you how poker chips are made, what materials they are made of, what standard colours are used for specific values, and the history of poker chip making.
What Are Poker Chips?
Poker chips are small disks, usually with a diameter of around 4 centimetres. Poker chips, or chips in short, are used in many casino games, including blackjack and roulette, but also in poker. They represent a certain monetary value and often contain the logo of the casino that issued them.
You buy poker chips in a casino at the cashier, where you exchange real money for these chips or ‘’credits’’. Although there is no real universal standard for poker chip colours and values, the most commonly used ones are as follows:
|Poker Chip Value||Poker Chip Colour|
Also notable is the role of number 8 in American casinos. Since the number eight is considered a lucky number in Chinese culture, chips representing 8, 88 and 888 are very common in US casinos catering to Chinese visitors. For example, during Chinese festivities (such as the Chinese New Year), chips with a value of 8 dollars are suddenly used in land-based US casinos.
What Are Poker Chips Made Of?
Although poker chips may all look the same to novice poker players, there are certainly some subtle differences in the quality and material used. Each material has its own weight, feeling, and sound. The most commonly used material to make poker chips are clay, composite, faux-clay, metal, ceramic, pearl, and plastic.
Composite chips often have a metal core and are cast. Because of this, the chips are easily stackable. It is striking that cheaper materials (such as plastic and composite) are less susceptible to damage than expensive materials, such as ceramics. As a result, cheaper chips are also the most durable.
Plastic Poker Chips
Plastic poker chips often weigh around two grams, feel cheap, and also look inexpensive. Players cannot easily stack them, but they are very durable.
Cheap Composite Poker Chips
Composite poker chips are the most commonly sold poker chip type across the globe. The popular dice and suit chips belong to this category. Composite chips are cast and contain an invisible metal core to increase the weight of the chip. Composite chips often weigh 11,5 grams or more. Without the metal core, the chips weigh around 8 grams. Some composite chips are being sold with a metal coin visible in the middle, also called ‘’coin inlay chips.’’
Composite chips are identical to produce, feel smooth, and are virtually unbreakable. They are often made in China and are relatively cheap – between £0,05 and £0,25 each. However, composite chips aren’t of casino quality, although they are often advertised as being so. Composite poker chips are very slippery and, therefore, difficult to stack or do chip tricks with.
Casino Quality Poker Chips Made of Clay, Ceramic, and Pearl
The real weight of poker chips varies between 9 and 10 grams, not 11,5 grams like often advertised. American casinos often use clay and ceramic poker chips. Clay and ceramic poker chips are pressed at high temperatures and consist of one whole part. Apart from exclusive casino print runs, professional chip makers also produce series meant for the consumer market, which are called fantasy sets.
Because of the exclusivity and the more expensive production process, these high-end poker chips are more expensive compared to chips made of other materials – between £0,50 and £1,50 per chip. European casinos used to use solely pearl chips but use American chips more often nowadays.
Clay Poker Chips
Clay poker chips used to be made from clay but were very fragile because of that. Nowadays, clay is mixed with a special mixture of plastics that contains chalk, sand, and clay. The exact mixture used is secret and differs per producer. Clay poker chips can have all sorts of colours, even multiple per individual chip.
The appearance of each poker chip is determined by the mould, the inlay, and the edge spots, which are stains on the edge of the chip in different colours. If no inlay is used in the production process, a hot stamp is used. This is a high-temperature pressed text or value in the chip, often with a silver or gold layer. An inlay-less or ‘cherry’ chip is also possible and leaves room for custom printing/hot stamps.
The unique production process ensures that all clay chips are different. Worn-in clay chips are well-suited for chip tricks like shuffling because of their grip and feel. The only disadvantage of clay chips is that they become dirty after frequent use and need to be washed.
The mould wears out slowly, and they are also the most fragile of all poker chip types. However, this appears to have little effect in practice. A special feature of clay chips is that the darker colours often come out better when oiled. Chip manufacturers rub the chips lightly with mineral oil to reach this desired effect.
Ceramic Poker Chips
Ceramic poker chips aren’t actually made of ceramic but from very hard plastic with high density. These poker chips often feel very smooth and like porcelain. Contrary to composite chips, ceramic chips can be stacked easily. These chips can also be printed with photorealistic prints. Ceramic chips are very hard and durable.
On ceramic poker chips, the print wears out over time (especially at the edge of the chip), and small pieces of the chip can break off in the event of a hard fall. Under normal use, the life of both ceramic and clay chips is virtually unlimited. Ceramic chips usually cost between £0,50 and £1,00 each. Clay and ceramic chip sets with no value symbols printed on them are often called NCV chips, which stands for No Cash Value.
Pearl Poker Chips
Pearl poker chips are often used in UK and European casinos. They are made of a combination of plastic and pearl and often use only one bright colour, like yellow, purple, or red. These poker chips usually weigh around 3 to 5 grams and cost around £0,40 a piece. Plaques, which are rectangular poker chips, are typically found in UK and European casinos as well and are almost always made of pearl. These poker chips are only used for high denominations.
Faux Clay Poker Chips
The relatively new faux clay poker chips are very cheap (£0,04 each) and have the same touch and feel as real clay chips. They look like composite chips but with only a single colour and without edge spots.
Metal Poker Chips
Full metal poker chips can weigh up to 16 grams each, and they cost about the same as ceramic poker chips (between £0,50 and £0,90 each).
Poker Chips Safety
Every casino has its own unique chipset, even if the casino is part of a bigger casino network or franchise. The security features of casino chips are numerous. The production of chips is also considered to be an art in itself, with the design involving high resolutions and security measures. The reason for that? To avoid using chips from other casinos or even counterfeit chips to exchange for cash.
For example, custom colour combinations on the edge of the chip are often characteristic of a particular casino. It is also not uncommon for UV markings to be applied, and the most modern chips even contain RFID technology (identification with radio waves) and watermarks that are almost impossible to copy. Because let’s face it: a brown chip (often) represents an amount of 10,000 pounds. So you can imagine that casinos want to limit the degree of fraud sensitivity as much as possible.
How do Casinos Counter Counterfeit Poker Chips?
Although a poker chip may not look very special at first glance, if you think that it is easy to counterfeit one, then you are (fortunately) wrong. Indeed, it is more difficult to counterfeit poker chips than you might think, simply because each chip has an exact weight, colour and design. In addition, poker chips are marked with a special ink that is only visible under UV radiation.
Chips With High Values are Tracked
Furthermore, chips with high values are also closely monitored by casinos, so counterfeiting with high-value chips becomes particularly difficult for cheaters. For higher-value chips, casinos even use special tracking devices such as the aforementioned RFID tags. These are built into the chips themselves and can be useful if someone tries to steal chips or tries to cash out counterfeit poker chips.
Playing Behaviour Can be Measured With Chips
Poker and casino chips, in general, do more than act as an extra security measure. They also help the casino keep track of activity at the various table games, see how much each table earns (or loses) and make sure dealers handle transactions correctly. In other words: the complete behaviour of both players and dealers can be monitored with the chips. Think of it as a kind of internally built-in camera.
Big Brother is Watching You
Speaking of cameras. It is also important to remember that casinos also operate with intensive security on the casino floors. They do this by deploying security staff members and following the premises with cameras. Any casino can literally track any player who has cashed out large sums of money, just as they can track their chips. So, no, cheating with casino chips is not that easy, and that’s a good thing.
Poker Chips in Online Casinos
Poker chips are featured in online casinos and poker rooms as well. Here, you drag the chips from a betting interface to the middle of the table (in the case of roulette, blackjack, and other non-poker casino games), or they automatically are placed in the middle by the casino’s software of the table when playing online poker.
Online casinos, poker rooms, and software providers use different poker chip colours, sizes, and branding, and one thing is for certain: you cannot withdraw them in any other form than digital money added to your bank account or e-wallet. At online casinos, you also don’t have to exchange your cash for chips, and they are only there to make the games more visually appealing.
FAQs About Poker Chips
When did poker chips first appear on a poker table?
The first casinos were legalised in Europe around 1660. After this legalisation, it took several centuries before poker chips made their appearance. The first mention of chips dates back to 1880, and that would initially be done through chips made of clay.
Why do casinos use poker chips?
Casinos use poker chips instead of money for practical reasons. After introducing casino chips, it was suddenly a lot easier for the dealers to count bets and payout patrons.
Chips are also a form of security for casinos, as they can include tracking devices, watermarks and other features. They help to protect gambling establishments from stealing and cheating.
One of the most common reasons for using poker chips is that people don’t like to see how much money they are actually gambling. Chips remove this threshold: players have less of a feeling that they are throwing in real money in a pot. After all, they are holding a piece of plastic in their hands.
Can you take home poker chips?
Yes, you are allowed to take home poker and other casino chips. However, this is not convenient. Yet every evening, there are casino visitors who forget to exchange chips and accidentally take them home. While some people find out quite quickly, there are also people for whom this does not happen until months later.
Luckily, that's not a problem. The value of the chips can simply be exchanged for the corresponding amount in pounds, euros, or dollars. Think of it this way: if you own chips of a certain value, the casino owes you a debt. They have to pay the amount the chips represent, even if you have taken them home. Note that these conditions may expire if the casino changes the chip system.
Can you sell poker chips to others?
Although poker and casino chip trading is not allowed, it does happen. Plenty of casino chips are traded on the internet. In fact, there is a thriving chip trade, particularly in the US. The fact that casinos don’t officially allow chips to be traded has everything to do with the fact that each chip represents a certain value. When it is traded, different amounts can suddenly be paid for it, and that is logically not what casinos want to welcome.
What happens to found poker chips?
In addition to people forgetting to redeem poker and casino chips, it is not uncommon for chips to be forgotten within the casino itself. The same goes for money. If no one reports this, they are often saved by employees. Ultimately, the total is donated to charities.
What are the alternatives to poker chips?
Of course, money is an alternative, in particular for people who play a poker tournament in a domestic circle. Then there are the so-called plaques. These are rectangular plates that also represent a certain financial value.