$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.
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.
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
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.
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.
churches still find chips in collection baskets and
gamblers frequently tip with chips.
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
a media organizer for the World Series of Poker and
other major poker tournaments, obtained the $5,000 MGM
Grand chip at the center of our story from a friend
who owed him money. Dalla decided to cash the chip at
the same time he cashed a winning sports book ticket
from MGM Grand.
whether he won the chip at the casino, Dalla told the
casino cashier he got it from a friend. That's when
a supervisor stepped in, asked a few more questions
and then confiscated the chip, saying Dalla couldn't
prove that the chip had been obtained legally.
friend, reached by phone, told the supervisor he received
the chip from a third gambler. That's simply how it
works in the world of serious poker players: Big-denomination
chips can change hands among players after they have
left the table.
was given a receipt for his chip after it was seized
by MGM Grand but, for now, he's down the $5,000.
says the casino presented him with an impossible task
- to prove that, at some point, a gambler at MGM Grand
had bought the chip.
think it's very scary for gamblers that the burden of
proof is on us," he said. "It's like the IRS.
They think everyone's a cheat."
fact, the casino is simply following state law. Nevada
regulations allow casinos to seize chips if the casino
"knows or reasonably should know" that the
chips weren't obtained in the course of gambling by
the individual presenting them. The little-known rule,
intended to protect casinos against theft, counterfeit
and other types of fraud, allows cage supervisors to
keep the questionable chip while they investigate its
post signs informing gamblers that chips can't be used
as money, but they may go unnoticed or unheeded.
absolutely aren't legal tender. They're the property
of the casino," MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman
said. "They are tendered for a very specific purpose
and that purpose is highly regulated. We are obligated
to verify that the chips were obtained through appropriate
and normal gambling activity."
old Nevada habits die hard.
chip represents payment," said Larry Grossman,
a gaming industry commentator and former gambling talk-show
host in Las Vegas. "Why does it really matter where
it came from as long as it's legitimate? I think the
onus should be on the casino to prove that something's
wrong than for the person to prove it's theirs. I don't
think that's anybody's business but the individual and
ago, casinos were more likely to cash chips without
asking too many questions because fewer high-limit chips
were in circulation, said David Schwartz, director of
UNLV's Gaming Studies Research Center. "It was
a much smaller industry, and there were fewer big gamblers
to keep track of."
commonly accepted piles of chips from shopkeepers as
well as chips from other gambling halls. Casinos now
have tighter policies on chips that differ by property.
casinos allow employees to redeem chips they receive
as tips as well as chips from other casinos owned by
the same company.
casinos can seize chips if there's any whiff of suspicion
about their origin. At MGM Grand, the state's largest
casino, this happens maybe once out of thousands of
transactions each month. The casino won't say which
denominations will trigger an investigation, but it's
clear they'll question the history of a $5,000 chip.
some cases, regulators have stepped in on customers'
behalf to order that chips be cashed.
defense of one high-stakes gambler, state gaming regulators
said MGM Grand probably wouldn't have been able to prove
that the man had gambled there even if he had. That's
because players often choose to gamble without identifying
themselves to casino bosses - preferring anonymity over
the chance for comps and freebies by identifying themselves
so the casinos can track and rate the level of their
casinos don't rate poker players because they play against
one another, not the house. So as high-value chips fly
among them, the casino has no need to track the exchanges.
the burden of proof is on the person with the chip to
show how he obtained it through legitimate means,"
said Jerry Markling, chief of the Gaming Control Board's
enforcement division. But if the chip is seized and
the customer complains to state regulators, the burden
shifts to the casino to prove its case.
now is wondering what to do with several big-denomination
chips he has accumulated over the years.
bettors and people who play high-limit poker games always
carry around chips," he said. "They don't
walk around with $10,000 or $15,000 in cash. This should
raise a red flag in gamblers' minds. Be careful if you're
in a poker room or sports book and someone wants to
pay you in chips."
problem may be moot 10 years from now, Schwartz said.
few casinos are starting to embed chips with radio frequency
identification tags. They're then given to specific
gamblers so the casino can pinpoint casino profits and
track play for the purpose of granting comps.
going to be easier to track all kinds of transactions,"
to tell if any of the chips have been to church.