The Strange and Unique History of Poker Chips

by Tim | Jul 08, 2022

The Strange and Unique History of Poker Chips

There are a few staples when it comes to brick-and-mortar and online casinos, and one of the most synonymous elements with any self-respecting establishment is undoubtedly the humble poker chip. Whether you play online poker or you prefer playing in person, you’ll know that chips are an essential aspect of the game. 

Although gambling has been around for centuries, many people who play poker don’t realise that chips, as we know them, are relatively new on the scene and have evolved hugely throughout their short existence.

In this blog post, we’re going to take a look at how poker chips started and how they became the chips that you’d use to bet on a Texas Hold’em poker hand today.

The early days of poker chips

A gold nugget on a black background.

Poker chips were definitely a far cry from the standardised ones that we use poker variants today. In fact, they simply didn’t exist for many years, even when casinos were already in full flow.

The very first casino and gaming venue opened in Venice, Italy in the 17th century. At this establishment, the high-profile players simply used cash as chips. This was how poker games were monetised until the 19th century.

The first time people started using tangible objects instead of cash came about during the Gold Rush in the US. Players in local bars, saloons, and casinos used small gold nuggets, gold coins, and gold dust in the place of cash, and these tokens soon became the new currency for gambling.

The first chips are introduced

Naturally, it wasn’t really feasible to keep using actual gold as poker chips and it’s easy to imagine that theft of these “chips” was relatively high. Before long, the first version of actual poker chips came about. Chips made from ivory, wood, bone, paper, or clay were soon the standard version found at casino tables all over the world.

However, this version also came with its own problems. The main issue casinos had with these chips was that they were incredibly easy to forge. Many players were able to make identical chips at home and simply add them to their stack when they checked out of the casino – thereby cashing out more than they had actually won!

Casinos take the DIY approach to poker chips

Casinos soon cottoned on that players were adding their homemade chips to their stacks and that something had to be done to stop the cheating. They started to collaborate with manufacturers to create their own versions of chips that were unique to their establishment.

To start with, many of the chips were made of ivory, and the casinos simply got them inlaid with an emblem or initial. Clay-made chips then became the dominant material, and most casinos used white, blue, and red chips in their casinos, although many other colours have been used.

The United States Playing Card Company created the most expensive casino chips that were ever made. These were made of clay materials and each chip was embedded with a circular lithograph. They were also sealed with a transparent liquid, so no one could tamper with them. These chips were adopted by many of the bigger casinos.

In the 1940s, clay chips fell by the wayside somewhat and plastic chips became the dominant chips on the market, as they were much cheaper and more popular among gamblers. 

Today’s poker chips

In casinos today, you’ll most likely find one of four types of chip materials:

  • Plastic
  • Composite/clay 
  • Ceramic 
  • Metal 

When it comes to the dimensions of poker chips, the most common you’ll come across is 39mm in diameter, although chips of a higher value may be a little bigger – between 39mm and 48mm. The thickness of today’s poker chips is 3.5mm and they weigh about 10g. Chips that you can buy in the shops for playing games at home are usually about 14g.

Poker chips in online casinos in the UK

A man plays online poker on the sofa.

Of course, if you play poker games online you’ll know that chips have come a long way since the gold nuggets, ivory, and bone equivalents from back in the day, and you’ll find that video poker games like Crazy 4 Poker, Jacks or Better, Joker Poker, Three Card Poker, and more use virtual chips. It’s a far cry from how they started out, but somehow they help to complete the picture of what a poker game is about!

Although they no longer have a tangible presence in online poker, chips are still as important online as they are in brick-and-mortar casinos. With the rate online casinos are innovating and evolving today, there’s no doubt the chips will continue to do the same.

Play online poker in the UK with The Phone Casino

If it’s poker games that you’re after, then you’ve come to the right place. At The Phone Casino, we have a whole range of poker games available for you to choose from. Whether you’re looking for Texas Hold’em poker, Omaha, video poker, or anything in between, our roster of games will keep you thoroughly entertained.

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