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Knowing Vegas: What happens to old casino chips?

Millions of casino chips have been taken out of Las Vegas resorts this year by tourists and local visitors. Hundreds of thousands more expire when a casino, like the Las Vegas Club, closes.

But while the final destination of the casino chips in the hands of tourists is anybody’s guess, the fate of expired chips, or ones from casinos on the way out, is more specific.

Casino chips are most often sent to their vendors and ground to pieces by large industrial machines, said Karl Bennison, chief of enforcement at the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

In the past, chips have also been been thrown in the concrete foundations of other, newer casinos, Bennison said.

“It’s covered in our regulations. The whole process goes by the Gaming Control Board,” Bennison explained. “Under the chip destruction plan, casinos have to write a notice, in two papers, that they’re going to discontinue or destroy them for redemption.”

Gary Sanoff, vice president of table games at Aria, said he had no knowledge of expired chips being left in other casinos’ foundations. Sanoff said the lifespan of a chip varies by casino.

Most casinos don’t discontinue chips unless they’re closing or facing the threat of fraud, Sanoff said. He referenced a 2010 robbery of the Bellagio, which led to the MGM property nullifying hundreds of $25,000 chips and ordering new chips with different designs.

In six years at Aria, Sanoff said the casino has sent only a small amount of worn chips back to their vendor, Gaming Partners International, to be destroyed.

“They wear down as we wash them on a regular basis,” Sanoff said. “Eventually they just get thinner. But we have yet to discontinue the design of any our chips.”

Sheldon Smith, 70, is the co-chair of the Casino Chip and Gaming Token Collectors Club’s annual Las Vegas convention. A 30-year collector of casino chips, Smith said he owns more than 1,500 distinct chips from casinos across Nevada.

As casinos close and chips are discontinued, Smith said many of his organization’s roughly 4,000 members end up with collectors’ items after forgetting to cash them in.

“Some people walk out of casinos with a pretty good amount of values in chips, and they sometimes end up with collectibles valued at more than what the chips were worth.”

Smith, too, said he’s sure thousands of old chips are buried in the foundation of other Strip casinos.

“Oh yeah, they’re there,” he said.

Contact Chris Kudialis at ckudialis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4593. Find him on Twitter: @kudialisrj

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