Casino chips are some of the items most closely-identified with gambling. But how much are casino chips worth? Alongside dice, playing cards, and the roulette wheel, chips stand in for gambling to the extent that states have tried to ban their use as a back-door way to prevent illegal gambling.
Do casino chips have any value outside of the casino? How much are casino chips worth inside and outside the casino? This post answers these questions and attempts to clarify some myths surrounding the question of buying and selling casino chips.
Casino Chip Colors & Standard Values
Chips are color-coded to help dealers and floor staff calculate value at a glance. With some exceptions, the chip colors and values below are standard across the American gambling industry:
- White Chips – $1
- Yellow Chips – $2
- Red Chips – $5
- Blue Chips – $10
- Grey Chips – $20
- Green Chips – $25
- Orange Chips – $50
- Black Chips – $100
- Pink Chips – $250
- Purple Chips – $500
- Burgundy Chips – $1,000
- Light Blue Chips – $2,000
- Brown Chips – $5,000
You’ll sometimes find casinos that use their own color scheme. I know that the Wynn has $3 chips that are a sort of peach color, and I remember seeing chips worth $2.50 (for blackjack play) that were a unique shade of hot pink in different parts of Vegas.
It’s important to check and make sure you know the values of the various chips at the casino where you gamble since there’s no legal standard or requirement that casinos use a particular color scheme.
Can I Use Casino Chips as Cash?
You can’t use chips as cash – that means no tipping your waitress with casino chips.
Once upon a time, casino chips and other gambling tokens were legal tender in Nevada. Old-timers tell stories about gamblers putting chips in the collection plate at their churches on Sunday mornings, with priests and nuns trudging up and down the Strip redeeming them for cash on Monday mornings.
These days, Federal law prohibits the use of casino chips as “instruments of currency.” In layman’s terms, which means you can’t use a casino chip to pay for a good or service.
I can’t find a single example of a person prosecuted for using a casino chip as legal tender or in place of currency. It doesn’t seem like an issue that any government takes all that seriously. Also, if you’ve spent much time in Vegas or Atlantic City, you know that people very much do treat casino chips as currency. I’ve seen plenty of people giving tips in chips, and the employees are happy to accept them.
Chips are a symbol, a representation of currency, and not a currency in and of themselves. It’s not even clear that gamblers ever own the chips they but in any meaningful way. Various state and federal laws over the years reinforce this idea, with the Nevada State Gaming Control Board (for example) saying “chips and tokens are solely representatives of value … and are not the property of anyone other than [the casino].”
Why Do Casinos Use Chips?
Presumably, casino customers have access to cash. Most of them already have cash in their wallets or can easily get some cash from an ATM or a bank. So why do casinos use chips?
For starters, chips are easier to store, rack, clean, and calculate than cash and coins. Chips are sturdier than cash, so they stack up easily and can stand up to the kind of repeat sanitization and distribution you find on a casino floor.
Also, dealers have a much easier time handling chips rather than paper money and coins. A chip stack is easy to eyeball, making security work easier, and speeding up the cash-out process at the same time. Chips in small amounts can be weighed accurately to determine their value; cash cannot.
There’s a psychological element to the use of chips rather than cash in casinos. Gamblers spend chips a lot more freely than they do cash – chips make money abstract, and therefore easier to bet in crazy amounts, handing a chunk of it over to the house in the process.
It’s also a security issue. Because casino chips only have value when used at that particular casino, a stolen chip isn’t worth that much. That means a person can’t come in from the street, grab a stack of chips, and run out the door to exchange them later for cash.
Can I Sell Casino Chips?
Casino chips that you acquire legally – mainly by buying them from the casino or a re-seller – are legal for you to sell. Again, these chips can’t be used in place of currency, but they do have some value in the resale market, especially as they are retired or become more than a couple of decades old.
Technically, casino chips are a form of scrip. Scrip is a bond that only retains value as long as someone is willing to take it as payment, an informal form of currency that was a big deal in America’s frontier days before standardized national currency appeared.
This means that a player holding a chip is essentially holding a debt owed him from a casino – a debt that’s only valid as long as the casino recognizes that chip. Try to exchange a retired chip for its face value and you’ll see the limitations of the use of scrip.
No law prohibits people from selling casino chips. The various laws that control the sale and distribution of casino chips are all about their use as currency and have nothing to do with the existing casino chip re-sale market.
In short, you can sell casino chips provided you aren’t using them in place of cash. That mostly gives you the right to sell them as curios, collector’s items, or props. I suppose you could also sell them to people who want to use them in their own home game setups, but the market seems mainly built around the collecting of rare and vintage chips. It’s legal to sell chips into this marketplace.
Casino Chip Collecting
Casino chips have no value as currency outside of the casino where they were produced. However, once a chip becomes rare or particularly old, it re-gains value to a collector’s market.
Believe it or not, there’s a big market in buying and selling vintage casino chips. It works just like any secondary market. Chips produced in limited quantities are valuable since they’re rare. Antique casino chips in good condition are also valuable since they’re also rare.
As in the baseball card market (or really any secondary collectibles market), complete sets of casino chips fetch higher prices than individual chips.
What’s driving the market in antique and rare casino chip collecting? I dove into a couple of sites dedicated to vintage casino chip sales and it seems like a nostalgia-heavy group of people. Items are described in detail, with price guides and serial number tracking, and the emphasis seems to be on limited and rare chips produced for special events.
Here’s an example of a recent sale I found through casinochipvalues.com. A collector offered a Hard Rock Casino $5 chip featuring Sheryl Crow produced in 1996 for the release of her song “Leaving Las Vegas.” The guys at Casino Chip Values suggested a base valuation of $26.50 based on recent comp sales and other factors like the chip’s condition. That means between 1996 and 2022 (about 25 years), the chip’s value increased more than five times. Only 5,300 or so of these chips were ever made.
Conclusion – How Much Are Casino Chips Worth?
Old casino chips do have some value, but not necessarily the value on their face, and they’re not interchangeable with cash. Vintage, rare, or special edition casino chips retain value in the secondary resale market, but that has very little to do with the value printed on the chip.
Federal and state laws control the use of casino chips as currency. Those chips that hold so much value and meaning at your favorite game table become almost worthless as soon as they leave the casino’s property.