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Chip collectors share tips

27 March 2012

Maybe you go to casinos to go jackpot chasing at the slots. Maybe you go to test your skill at blackjack or poker.

Or maybe you're out to grab a piece of history.

Dollar chips from current casinos. Old Las Vegas chips. New Jersey chips. Chips from the Midwest or South. Chips from illegal casinos of long ago. Collectors throughout the United States buy, sell and trade chips as their connection with casino history.

Take Rick Pokracki, known as "Riverboat Rick" to members of the national Casino Chip and Gaming Tokens Collectors Club (www.ccgtcc.com) and to visitors to the Chip Board (www.thechipboard.com). He's both a chip collector and a history buff, and his interest in the chips from illegal casinos led him to a few history lessons as he looked back at old newspaper files. It also has given him lessons in verifying chips that didn't always carry the name of the casino.

"A lot of time the chips had only the owner's initials," he said. "The Rock Garden Club in Cicero, known for its Al Capone connection, a lot of the chips just said 'RG.' Some actual chips say 'Rock Garden.' Around the edge, if it has the manufacturer's initials, and the mold, you can check manufacturer's records.

"One time, I checked a coin store. I check pawn shops, coin shops, antique shops, gift stores. So I stopped at a coin shop and asked if he had any casino chips or tokens. He said he had some in the back. Sure enough, he had four or five green chips with a picture of a top hat. The important part is that it had the 'T' initial. That tells you it was from the Taylor mold in Cicero, Illinois. Any chip made there, there's an excellent chance it was from an Illinois illegal casino. I paid a buck apiece, and checked it out. They were from the Toppers Key club in Chicago. So I got the chips for nothing, I did the research, and checked with other people from the club, and found out I had something good."

Another collector, Chuck Tomarchio, told me how he got in involved in the hobby.

"I retired from the military in 1985, and I retired without a plan," he said. "My home area is Philadelphia, southern New Jersey. I didn't have a job and I just knocked around for about six months. In June of '86 I decided, I've got to do something, so I went to a casino dealer's school. I went to blackjack dealer's school and in July of 1986 I got a job at the Golden Nugget.

"One of my co-workers collected roulette chips. His girlfriend was a waitress, and she'd get chips as tokes. Then my next-door neighbor was a coin and token collector. He said there's a club, and he introduced me to the president of the club. My co-worker and I decided to join.

"I liked the designs of the gaming chips. I always thought about collecting. Exposure to the club opened a vast array of collecting abilities, with access to all these different jurisdictions. I was the typical start-up. I wanted everything. I went crazy trying to get chips from every jurisdiction that came to my attention, Nevada, California, Atlantic City, the Caribbean. Then Colorado went online with the three mining towns. Then the riverboats.

"After five or six years of that I thought, 'Uh-uh. I can't be doing all that.' It was a little bit too much, a little bit too expensive. After five, six, maybe seven years I started restricting my collecting to Nevada and Atlantic City. That's pretty much where I am today."

The hobby that can be as casual and inexpensive -- or as pricey -- as you want it to be.

"The most expensive chip I ever bought was $1,500," collector Fred DeKeyser remembered. "It was the very first commemorative chip ever issued, a limited edition in Reno in 1931. It wasn't for any one casino, it was to commemorate the beginning of gaming in Reno."

But it doesn't have to be expensive at all. After all, a collection of current $1 chips from casinos you visit would cost only a buck a pop.

"Pick an area of interest and start there," Tomarchio said. "Think small. Maybe $1 chips, that's a reasonable start. Or pick a jurisdiction. Maybe riverboats in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. Specialize.

"Get your education. There are specialty books out there for various jurisdictions that collectors have painstakingly put together. Get the book first. Don't just throw your money around."

DeKeyser summarized in four points. "Watch the Chip Board. Join the club. Buy a guide. Do your homework."

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski