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The History of Poker Chips by Michael Thomas

Poker became prevalent in the 1800s, making its rounds inside river boats, bars and saloons.  In those days, gamblers used whatever they could to keep tally, be it coins, gold nuggets or gold dust.   However, many people wanted to play poker with more money than they carried on them.  Those who did have the money didn't want to leave it on the table with a pack of drunken, edgy gamblers who wouldn't hesitate to steal it.  In addition, players needed an easier way to manage their bankroll, and thus, the poker chip was born. 

Early Poker Chips

Saloons and gambling houses began giving out poker chips to the people who played in their establishments.  It is believed that the house would hold onto the money, collect a small fee, and create an equal playing ground.  This made for easier management while helping to ensure that money was kept safe from angry losers. 

The first poker chips were constructed from a wide range of materials.  Many poker players used chips made of ivory, wood, bone and paper.  Some of the most commonly used poker chips during these times were composites created from clay and shellac.  While these chips were a big improvement, they led to one major problem - cheating.  Some players decided to sneak their own chips into the game, a practice that became known as "ringing in."  Establishments began to catch onto the trend after noticing that nights ended with more chips than they originally had. 

To combat "ringing in" and other illicit practices, manufacturers began to produce chips that differentiated.  This resulted in a wide range of styles that saw chips with inlays, engraving, stickers, and just about any design to make them look unique.  With a larger variety available, players would order poker chips exclusively designed for their personal use. 

The Evolution of Poker Chips

From the late 1880s, clay composite chips were the poker chips of choice.  In the 1940s, plastic chips emerged on the scene.  These poker chips were a big hit among home players because of the low cost.  However, as the game became increasingly popular, players began to seek chips of higher quality. 

During sometime in the 1950s, casinos became the premier place for gambling games.  Of course, poker was one of the most popular.  This lead to the mass production of poker chips, with millions entering into the poker scene.  Such large amounts were warranted as the casinos could literally have thousands of people playing at any given time.  With poker becoming more widespread in this setting, manufacturers felt the need to differentiate and authenticate the abundance of poker chips on the market.  Various methods were employed, such as using chips with different weights, sizes, and textures.  Many of the chips used in casinos today are implanted with microchips and have intricate designs that prevent them from being forged by counterfeiters. 

The poker chip has come a long way in terms of the look and price as well.  There was a time when a good set could set your payroll back so much that you barely had any money left to even play.  Thankfully, these days, you can purchase a handsome set of poker chips that look and feel great for an affordable price. 

This article was published on Saturday 21 March, 2009.
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