The History of The Poker Chip

August 19, 2010

The poker chip and the game of poker have traveled a long way through history together, even if the game itself is estimated to have appeared perhaps a century earlier. Indeed, the game is the father to the chip, since it eventually became necessary to standardize how betting and collecting winnings was carried out. It was too easy for players to cheat in the early days, when almost any type of valuable could be tossed into a pot. What we now think of as the typical casino chip was first developed in the late 19th century for the games played on steamboats and in western bars.

However, it wasn’t simply a matter of every player or gambling establishment changing to a uniform type of poker chips right away. Even though chips eventually became the recognized medium of exchange in poker games, they came in literally hundreds of designs and very different materials. Some might have been made of bone or ivory, for example. A player’s custom poker chips could have been as diverse and unique as the player they belonged to. Yet with nothing being uniform, players could sneak their own chips into a game and end up wealthier at the end than their play might have warranted.

But as always, with an eye to security and the prevention of fraud, casinos turned the diversity of the poker chip to their advantage. Each casino custom created its own clay poker chip with its own specially patented formula for the clay and ceramic mixture, adding all sorts of markers in the design that would identify each chip as belonging to that specific casino. This prevented one casino’s chips from being cashed in another establishment, and made the games within their own casino more standardized and honest.

In more recent years, though, plastic has been introduced as a poker chip material, especially for the less expensive sets used in home games. Plastic chips all tend to be lightweight and pretty much of the same design, while casino poker chips have retained their higher quality. In just over a century, the development of poker chips has brought them from those earliest, random forms on river boats to the highly customized chips in casinos and the more casual sets used in people’s homes.

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