Chips Ahoy

Most people who come to Las Vegas have a plan: Accumulate big piles of casino chips at the tables, trade them at the cage for cash and go home happy. But the 1,500 or so people meeting this week at the South Point weren’t looking to cash out their score. Instead, at the 20th annual Casino Chip and Gaming Token Collectors’ Convention, they’re looking to pile up the tokes and hang on.

Even though it’s billed as a chip convention, the fact is if it has a casino logo on it, someone collects it. Chips, dice, cards and other gaming paraphernalia are the tip of the iceberg. Swizzle sticks, ashtrays, room keys, napkins—even toilet seats have been the objects of collectors’ desire.

Why do they do it? Collectors say that the colorful history of casinos is a big draw, as is the relatively small pool of serious collectors, which breeds a feeling of camaraderie. With many collectibles available for free, it’s cheap to get into, and those with the money to spend can make it expensive and potentially remunerative.

Truth to be told, there’s a lot of money to be made in casino collectibles. The rarest chips change hands for more than $100,000, and slot club cards —which are issued free to anyone over 21 with a photo ID—have traded for as much as $750.

But that isn’t the point of the game for most collectors. Doing this just for profit is looked down on. It’s not about a big score—it’s about completing a collection, for example, every Sands chip issued, or a $1 chip from each Nevada casino.

And that might be what makes the convention so interesting. What was originally a medium of exchange only has become a medium of value—personal instead of monetary.