Chips aren’t cash!

A friendly reminder from the LV Sun:

If $5,000 casino chips could talk, what would this one say? It might explain its recent travels and how it has ended up in the custody of a cashier at the MGM Grand, who questioned whether it really belonged to the gambler who turned it in.

The gambler, a poker player, made the mistake of treating the chip like currency. And all he’s got to show for it today is a piece of paper – a receipt for the chip he no longer has – and no money.

The harsh lesson he learned is that this isn’t old Vegas, where casino chips were the coin of the realm, used to settle debts between friends, buy groceries and pay for haircuts.

That culture started to change 20 years ago when Nevada defined tokens as the property of individual casinos and prohibited their use “for any monetary purpose” outside the casino. They were simply intended as stand-ins for cash, loaned to players for the sole purpose of gambling.

The regulation was adopted to bring state law in line with federal rules prohibiting the creation of new currencies and with existing casino accounting procedures. The rule also has favorable tax implications for casinos, which aren’t taxed on unreturned chips.

But churches still find chips in collection baskets and gamblers frequently tip with chips.

So Nolan Dalla, one of many poker players who casually trade, borrow and gift poker chips to colleagues, was surprised to learn he was, technically, breaking Nevada law.

Las Vegas SUN: Chips no longer good as cash

I’ve discussed this issue from several angles. For example, lets say you are an employee and someone tips you a $5,000 chip, or you just find one out on the carpet. In most casinos (including the one I worked at) you’re required to report both immediately. As far as money on the floor goes, to this day I won’t pick up money I see down there, because not doing this was really hammered home to us. If I see a quarter on the floor, I’ll still say to someone nearby, “Hey, there’s a quarter–why don’t you take it.” You see, if the quarter belonged to a patron, taking it would be theft, and if it belonged to the casino (fell out of a hopper, etc), taking it would be skimming. Casinos aren’t mellow about either one.

Anyway, some people I’ve talked to have said that they’d just give the $5,000 chip to a friend to cash in for them. And I’d tell them that what happened to Nolan would happen to them. Apparently I was right. Casinos pretty much know who’s got $5000 chips, and anyone who walks up to the cage with one of them is going trip an alarm. Because, let’s face it, if you’re betting $5000 a hand or more, you’re not going to be cashing out one chip. In fact, you might not be cashing out at all, but either using whatever chips you have to settle markers or socking a credit away for your next trip. So I can see how this would happen.

On the other hand, anyone who’s familiar with poker players at all knows that Nolan’s description of how he got the chip rings absolutely true. And it’s not like he’s some bum off the street–he’s very, very well known in the poker world. I say, if the chip is genuine, give him his money. But, as always, be on guard for counterfeit and stolen chips.

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