Gaming Guru: Do not trust luck in collecting casino chips, buy a good guide - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Gambling

Gaming Guru: Do not trust luck in collecting casino chips, buy a good guide - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Gambling

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Gaming Guru: Do not trust luck in collecting casino chips, buy a good guide

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Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 12:05 am

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.

Take Rick Pokracki, known among the national Casino Chip and Gaming Tokens Collectors Club (www.ccgtcc.com) and to visitors to the Chip Board (www.thechipboard.com) as "Riverboat Rick." 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, looking for mentions of the casinos.

"A lot of times 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.' If it has the manufacturer's initials around the edge and the mold, you can check manufacturers records.

At a coin shop, Riverboat Rick found a few green chips with a picture of a top hat.

"The important part is that it had the 'T' initial," he said. "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, recalled getting involved in the hobby. He'd retired from the military in 1985 and returned to his home near Philadelphia. With no job, he decided to go to blackjack dealer's school, and was hired in 1986 by the former Golden Nugget in Atlantic City.

He joined the collectors' club after learning about it from a neighbor.

"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 5, 6, maybe 7 years I started restricting my collecting to Nevada and Atlantic City. That's pretty much where I am today."

The hobby can be as 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. A collection of $1 chips from current casinos you visit would cost only a buck a pop.

"Pick an area of interest and start there," Tomarchio suggests. "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 highlighted four key points. "Watch the Chip Board. Join the club. Buy a guide. Do your homework."

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at casinoanswerman.com.

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