During my years spent exploring America’s casino scene, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting hundreds of gambling halls. And if I had to, I could list every single one of them too. That’s because I’ve made a lifelong hobby of collecting various mementos from the casinos I happen to come across on my travels.
And as a Las Vegas native who’s Mom served cocktails at the old Bourbon Street casino near The Strip back in the early 90s, I do mean lifelong. She used to bring home all of the items listed below that you can use to start a casino collection of your own.
Practically every legitimate casino uses chips instead of cash for their table games. By far, the most popular collectable that can be found in any casino are gaming chips. I personally have 273 unique chips and counting, and just looking at each one brings back memories of that particular trip.
I have a chip from the Borgata in Atlantic City that was won when I went on the longest craps heater of my life – 23 rolls without sevening out. Another chip from Foxwoods in Connecticut was won at the poker table, when I somehow managed to beat a notable pro in a mid-stakes cash game pot.
Some casinos use different chips in their poker room than the ones in play in the table game pit, but for the most part, they’re interchangeable. The coolest part about casino chips is how they typically designed to evoke the property itself.
My chip from the Rio in Las Vegas, for example, is brightly colored in rainbow hues just like the building’s façade. A chip from the Orleans bears a saxophone playing alligator logo fitting for the Cajun-themed casino. And of course, a chip from the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia is adorned with the venue’s signature royal crown.
Casinos also tend to rotate through different themes and logos on their chips as the years go by, adding even more dimensions to your collection.
Another differentiating factor between a casino’s various chips are the denomination they’re worth. Speaking for myself, I prefer to collect the $1 chips for two main reasons. First, these are obviously the cheapest option, as I can add to my collection for the lowest possible price. Secondly, the color of $1 chips tends to vary wildly from casino to casino and region to region.
Many of my favorites are from Las Vegas Casinos. I have a copper colored $1 chip from the South Point in Sin City, a purple chip from Circus-Circus. I also have a neon pink chip from Fort McDowell Casino near Phoenix.
When you bump it up to the higher denominations, however, you’ll usually find a set color scheme. The $5 chips are almost always red (hence the nickname “redbirds”), the $25 chips tend to be green, $100 chips are mostly black, etc.
The reason I like the color variations offered by $1 chips is because it makes for a much more aesthetically pleasing display on my wall. Pull up a search for “casino chip display” or “poker chip frame” and you’ll find no shortage of ways to show off your chips.
In my case, I use a framed felt square with specially cut out imprints where the chips fit perfectly snug. This frame includes a glass protector as well, to keep your friends’ grubby mitts off the merchandise.
To ensure your chips remain clean for collecting purposes, simply dampen a rag or paper towel with a splash of rubbing alcohol and wipe them down on both sides. Try not to get them too wet though, as many casino chips use stickers for the logo rather than engraving.
Many chips that have been in circulation forever seem to accumulate a layer of brown scum that simply can’t be washed off. This is why I like to eye the $1 chips I handle as I’m playing, in hopes of spotting a newer one that’s still in “mint” condition.
Collecting casino chips may seem like a strange hobby to some, but if you ask true gambling aficionados, you’ll be surprised by how many people out there share the predilection.
Packs of Playing Cards
Another casino collectable that many people enjoy bringing back home after a gambling adventure is playing cards. Playing cards have a long history that intersects with gambling at every turn.
Obviously, you can’t pocket a card while you’re playing blackjack or baccarat – although you can bend them up in the latter game – but casino operators are happy to furnish cards that have been discontinued.
At some point way back when, a clever casino owner realized that the constant flow of decks cycled out after heavy use could be converted into cash. By repackaging a full-52 card deck from discontinued cards, and selling them in the gift shop, almost every casino today scores a rebate on their dead inventory.
To avoid any possibility of potential cheaters sliding these cards up their proverbial sleeve, the casinos use a holepunch to “brand” out of use cards.
The industry standard for casino playing cards is the iconic Bicycle brand, but you’ll also find cards designed by Bee, Kem, Aviator, Tally-Ho, Congress, Hoyle, and Aristocrat. In an interesting turn of events only playing card collectors likely care about, all eight of these apparent competitors are owned by the United States Playing Card Company.
Depending on your preference, you can leave your new decks unopened and in the package, or you can open them up to display the cards.
Many card collectors like to use the same frame concept used for chips, while displaying a certain card rank from each deck alongside one another. I like to show off the Aces, a trait shared by all poker players, but any of the face cards make for a terrific display.
Along the same lines, every casino craps table cycles through an endless supply of red dice once they’ve been used and abused.
And once those dice emblazoned with a casino’s name and logo are officially removed from the floor, they head straight for the casino gift shop for resale.
When you get serious about a dice collection, you’ll start seeing a few things about these tools of the trade that likely escaped your notice before.
Genuine casino dice will always have sharp corners, for example, rather than the rounded corners you’ll find on the dice in your Monopoly box. They’re also made out of cellulose acetate, a material which makes the dice transparent so dealers can confirm their legitimacy by spotting the holographic watermark embedded within.
Matchbooks or Ashtrays
This one’s for the tobacco fans out there, as every casino worth its salt seems to have branded matchbooks and ashtrays scattered throughout their smoking sections.
I’m not a smoker myself, but I know plenty of fellow gamblers who indulge in the vice, and most of them wind up with one of these collections one way or another. Even if they’re not consciously keeping their smoking paraphernalia, most smokers wind up bringing these items home in their pants pocket by mistake. Eventually, with so many on hand, they start consciously seeking matchbooks or ashtrays out as keepsakes.
Of course, pocketing a matchbook is actively encouraged by the casinos, while taking an ashtray off the property is decidedly not. With that said, please be careful and don’t let your collector’s impulses lead to any brushes with the law.
Fortunately, most casinos nowadays count ashtrays as a standard amenity within a smoking room, so you’ll be able to abscond with one without the eye in the sky taking notice.
Pens With Logos
Another freebie found in every hotel room, bringing a branded pen or two back home is a fun way to memorialize your latest casino excursion.
These casino collectables are convenient because of their small size, and they’re functional too. You can stash them on your desk and use them like any other pen, before tucking them away for safekeeping once the ink has run out.
Half Dollar Coins
When you make a $5 bet at a real money blackjack game offering 3 to 2 odds, and you’re dealt a natural 21, the payout comes to $7.50.
Most casinos don’t utilize $0.50 chips, however, so you’ll receive a silver half dollar to top off your winnings. Some casinos deploy metal tokens with their logo as a substitute, but the majority pay players with the classic Kennedy half dollar coin.
I know plenty of blackjack enthusiasts who like to keep one Kennedy coin from each casino they visit. Typically, they’ll use small stickers to affix the name of the casino and the date the coin was won, making for a fun trip down memory lane.
Every casino gift shop in the country peddles commemorative T-shirts with their name and logo. This apparel won’t be the height of fashion, mind you, but the shirts do make for a great collection for regular casino goers.
The cool thing about the casino gambling industry is its diversity. Las Vegas mega-resorts, tiny tribal gambling halls, old-school “sawdust” joints way out in the middle of nowhere – you’ll find casinos come in all shapes, sizes, and styles.
And after a while, folks like myself who spend a ton of time touring the nation’s casino scene come to appreciate how each venue has a unique personality all its own. Collecting tchotchkes from each casino you visit is a fun way to keep a lasting connection with every place you’ve played your favorite slots, video poker machines, or table games.