Chips Ahoy

October 26, 2008

Throughout my life, I’ve gravitated to collecting things. Pretty much whatever you can think. It started out when was just a little kid, and little by little I amassed the greatest original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe collection known to man.

Or at least known to my basement. From there I progressed to buttons – not clothing buttons – the ones with the pins, you know, Vote for Joe Schmo, I heart New York. Those buttons. For a short time, I emptied nickel after nickel into my Osco Drugstore vending machine and put together a nice little super ball collection. Micro machines, muscle men (weren’t those great?), model trains, all had a place in my collecting world.

As I grew older, all my other collecting habits gave way to newer (and more expensive) hobbies. I started collecting basketball cards and sports memorabilia. I started collecting movies (first DVDs, and now blu-ray). I even collected different packs of playing cards from casino’s and other places around the world. (Do you have your Iraq’s most wanted deck of cards? I do).

But my favorite and most unique collection, and also one that can be attained with the least amount of money, is casino chips. I love my chip collection. I even gathered about 63 of my top chips, bought a pre-cut framing felt online, and went to a local hobby shop to get them framed. I think I only have about 80 or so in my entire collection, but whenever I’m on vacation and there’s a casino nearby. I make it a point to stop in, plop down a dollar, and get myself a casino chip.

I built the majority of my collection when I turned 21, and my Dad took me on a trip to Las Vegas. We walked up and down the entire strip (and downtown Vegas’ Fremont Street) going casino to casino (yes, even to all the little dive places) getting $1 chips to add to my collection. I also grabbed quarter buckets from each one, but that didn’t last too long, and I’ve since tossed those in the garbage.

I have to say, it’s a really fun hobby, and I have tons of fantastic memories. I also got to see the inside (sometimes more than I wanted to) of every Las Vegas casino at the time.

It’s funny, too, how friendly the cashiers were to me. I wasn’t some young, cut kid. I was a grown adult…and I was really taking up time from other people buying chips, making change. I was buying something, too, but obviously not exchanging as much money, and therefore taking time away from the casino when they could’ve been handling other people’s issues and requests.

Nevertheless, every place I went to was more than happy to oblige my request. In fact, almost half would sort through a stack of $1 chips to pick out the cleanest one for my collection. (You would be amazed how dirty some of these get. I’m sure the casino industry goes through more Purel hand sanitizer in a year than cocktail umbrellas). Some of these places even have special designated souvenir $1 chips for such an occasion. How accommodating!

So, which are my favorites? I have a few. My first one is a buy-in chip from the World Series of Poker. I can’t remember the year off-hand, but it’s surrounded in bright orange with a white center and black writing in the middle. My second favorite goes back to when I was a kid. That’s not when I got the chip, but that’s when I was a fan of Howie Mandel’s stand-up comedy. And the chip has Howie’s face on it, a souvenir $1 chip from a celebrity tournament he played in back in the 90’s.

And my third favorite chip is a plain old, unimpressive chip from Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. Nothing flashy, just plain and too the point, but nothing signifies the history and grit of the game of poker like that chip – just like the casino it came from.

It’s no shock that casino chips are the one collection that sticks with me to this day. And has been a part of my collecting interest long before I was legally eligible to put these chips in play.

And the way Vegas has changed – and keeps changing – I’m sure the next time I make it back there, I’ll have to plan another trip up and down the strip to freshen my collection. My feet hurt for a week after that first trek. I’ll have to get better shoes next time around.