Chips are the currency of casinos and poker games around the world. Go to any regular casino and you will see more than just a few chips. Even the sound they make when they chime with each other is as timeless as the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip. There’s a lot of money in Vegas, but it all starts with those little round chips that circulate around the casino floor. So why do casinos use chips instead of cash? At first, you may find it easier to deal with cold cash. There would be no need to constantly deposit and withdraw money. The casino would not have to hire cashiers just to exchange chips for cash. Things would get easier, right?
Well, casinos use chips for several reasons, and it’s not just tradition. Let’s take a look.
The main reason casinos prefer chips over cash is that chips create a slight mental separation between the player and their valuable money. It’s a little easier for you, the player, to make a big bet because it’s just chips. Logically, you know what these chips are. But because you don’t have real money in your hands, you feel a little less inhibited from more risk.
Basically, it’s a matter of psychology. You can also think of it this way. If you wanted to bet $500 on blackjack and you only had cash, you would have to sit back and count the currency. It could be twenty-five $20 bills or a small wad of fresh, crisp $100 bills. It’s very real and it’s staring you in the face. This gives time for what you are doing to really sink in.
But if you are using chips, all you have to do is toss one purple chip on the table. It doesn’t look like much. It’s just a lone sliver in the middle of a green felt sea. All it takes is a second and the money’s gone.
The chips provide the casino with an additional layer of security. Casinos control these chips and have a number of tricks they can use to scare or thwart those with criminal intent. A few years ago, a man parked his motorcycle in a Bellagio service area, ran inside with a gun, and robbed a dice table, taking $1.5 million worth of chips.
Bellagio noticed that a significant portion of the thief’s ill-gotten gain consisted of $25,000 worth of chips. A few days later, Bellagio announced to the world that it would soon stop making all of its current $25,000 chips.
All these chips will become worthless after the expiration date set by the casino.
This put the thief in the awkward position of having to cash out a lot of valuable chips in a short amount of time. He was later caught trying to sell his chips through the TwoPlusTwo.com poker forums. The “buyer” reported the attempted sale to the police, after which the bandit was caught.
Some casinos also add RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips to their chips. This allows them to keep track of their high denomination chips and easily detect fraud. If someone comes in with a bunch of clever fakes, those chips won’t be identified and the casino won’t cash out a bunch of fake chips by mistake.
If multiple RFID chips are stolen, the casino can determine (depending on the circumstances) which chips are missing. The casino can then remove these individual chips from its inventory and render the stolen chips worthless. This does not affect any other chips.
One of the reasons casinos use chips is simple convenience. In fast-paced games, it would be a nightmare to wait while players fiddle with dollar bills for every bet. Money bends, isn’t easy to fold, hard to track, and takes up a lot of space.
High-stakes games would further complicate these matters. Just imagine that you are trying to play $4,000/$8,000 Fixed Limit Hold’em with a bunch of $100 bills. It just won’t work. Chips make life easier for everyone.
This last point applies specifically to casinos that use RFID-enabled chips. The vast majority of casinos do not use RFID on all their chips, but the industry seems to be slowly moving in that direction. Casinos that use 100% RFID enabled chips can collect huge amounts of data.
RFID chips allow casinos to detect dealer errors, catch players who try to sneak extra chips to the table after betting closes, track the movement of chips around the casino, and much more. Casinos can use this information to optimize profits, track trends, and prevent scammers from losing money.
One day, casinos may even use RFID chips to determine how skilled specific players are. The casinos could then use this information to determine appropriate fees for individual players. Or they might find out who the card counters are and encourage them to go play somewhere else.