The atmosphere inside the walls of a casino is unreal, at times surreal. Very few casinos, especially older casinos, have windows that allow day light in and none have clocks in view. The idea is to block out reality and allow patrons to forget whether it’s night or day, or what time of the night or day it is.
And the tinkering with reality doesn’t stop there. Gambling in a casino means turning in your real currency for a time and using a substitute currency while you are there. What we call chips or checks/cheques or even tokens date back to the early 19th century and there a many reasons why they are still used today. Most of the reasons are for the casino’s benefit, of course.
The primary characteristic of the casino chip is its uniformity. While each casino may emblazon their chips with their own distinct decoration, (casino name, location, emblem, or logo) they all are mostly of uniform shape (round), size (about the size of an old half-dollar), and weight (lighter than a silver coin but heavier than a modern one). Clearly stamped on each chip is its denomination - $1, $5, $25, and $100 – for the vast majority of chips in play. Other higher denominations are available and the highest values may even be larger or in a completely different shape than the common ones.
Chip uniformity includes color and casinos basically all agree in this area - $1 chips are white, $5 chips are red, $25 are green, and $100 chips are black. Values above these can be varying shades of yellow and pink according to each particular casino’s whim.
Uniformity leads to convenience, especially when it comes to counting chips. Chips are stacked in piles of twenty, each of the same denomination. In a blackjack table “rack” every twenty chip stack is separated by a clear marker. A security guard or a pit boss can easily tally the worth of the chips on any given table – stacks of $1s equal $20, stacks of $5s equal $100, stacks of $25 chips equal $500, and a stack of black $100 chips equals $2000. Higher chip values are generally separated out, kept to the center of the rack and counted separately.
One of the advantages of this uniformity among gambling chips is that players can easily determine the worth of the chips in their neighbor’s stacks. At a poker table, especially a tournament poker table, players are cautioned to display the stacks of their larger denomination chips so that others can easily determine the value of their stacks.
Of course, casino chips are not valued for their intrinsic worth along – they make great toys! Watch just about any experienced gambler fiddle with his/her chip stack and you will see a demonstration of some of the best digital acrobats ever imagined. And, learning chip tricks is fun.
But, the main reason for using chips instead of legal tender is that research has proven that people gamble more freely with substitute money than they do with real money. Not much different than playing with Monopoly money, is it?