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Three reasons why casinos make you bet in chips and not in cash

Published:

8 Feb 2019

Venice, Italy. This was the location where the first legal public gaming house was situated back in 1626.

For a long time to follow, these houses allowed players to place their bets using a variety of items, whether it be cash, gold or valuable objects. In some cases, players even bet their land as collateral.

It was the late 1800s when chips first came on the scene and there are numerous reasons why casinos prefer this as a means of gambling.

Here are three such reasons:

Psychology

In 1983, Al Alvarez published the book ‘The Biggest Game In Town’, which is widely considered to be among the first to promote poker to a mainstream audience.

One of his anecdotes from the book reads: “The chip is like a conjurer’s sleight of hand that turns an egg into a billiard ball, a necessity of life into a plaything, reality into illusion.

“Players who freeze up at the sight of a fifty-dollar bill, thinking it could buy them a week’s food at the supermarket, will toss two green [$25] chips into the pot without even hesitating if the odds are right.”

This is the psychology of the gambling chip – it disguises the true value of money.

Should a player have to count out a wad of banknotes to place a bet, there would be a realisation as to the amount being gambled.

However, replace this wad with two or three chips and suddenly the decision does not seem so daunting.

By using chips, casinos are able to make visitors part with larger chunks of money more easily.

Speed and profits

As all casino games have an in-built house edge, it makes sense for venues to want to progress hands as quickly as possible. The more hands played every hour, the more profits they should make over time.

Orchestrating a fast-moving game would not be possible if every player was using cash to play.

Imagine a roulette layout where 50 or more players could be looking to bet on a single spin.

Now visualise these players betting with a mixture of different-sized banknotes and coins, which are all loose across the layout and not banded together.

Dealers and casino staff would take an age to count all of these bets and pay out any winners.

What’s more, this could take even longer on tables where players are gambling with bigger stakes. Baccarat could easily be one such example and players would rapidly become impatient waiting for every Banker bet to be counted.

It is simply much more convenient and less complicated for dealers to quickly be able to recognise the size of a bet, just by having memorised the colours of a handful of casino chips.

Another point to note is that each chip has no inherent cash value, so if people take away a $10 chip, casinos are not really out of pocket $10 the same way they would have been if the chip had been cashed in.

Profits are gained by playing more hands per hour, but also by players taking chips home as mementos.

Every chip a player takes home that has not been cashed out, the casino has already pocketed the cash for.

Security

By using chips instead of cash, casinos are helping their security in two ways.

Factoring into the speed point in the previous section, the first is nullifying those who may look to play with counterfeit cash.

Staff would barely get any hands dealt if they had to check every banknote received in case one was a forgery.

Secondly, thieves would have a field day if ransacking a casino table for vast amounts of cash. They could simply walk out of the door and spend it.

With chips, it is not so simple. As mentioned earlier, this is because they have no cash value.

Take a previous incident at The Bellagio, where one man parked his motorcycle outside and then headed towards the high-limit craps table. Once there, he pulled out a gun and cleared the table of chips.

He got away with $1.5 million in chips, with $1 million of this sum being of a particular chip variety. Each red chip with a grey inlay was worth $25,000.

With these chips only used by high rollers and the users of such chips typically logged, the thief was going to find it almost impossible to cash them all in without drawing attention to himself.

This task was to get even harder once The Bellagio announced that they were soon discontinuing this chip, so any visitors holding onto them needed to cash them in immediately before they became worthless bits of plastic.

The thief was eventually caught attempting to sell them on an online forum, with the wannabe buyer helping detectives in their enquiries.