Earlier this year, a Las Vegas man was arrested for trying to pass counterfeit casino chips at several downtown casinos.
And, even though the fake chips aren’t believed to be part of a massive organized crime conspiracy, experts say counterfeiting is a serious problem, especially at overseas casinos.
"The Nevada Gaming Commission gets about a dozen complaints every year related to counterfeit chips," said Keith Copher, the agency’s chief of enforcement. "They’re not something we see often, but it’s something we’re very cautious of."
Copher added that losses due to phony chips are usually small and that the perpetrators seldom get away with it. "It’s very difficult to counterfeit because it’s difficult to match the colors exactly," he said.
Nevertheless, last year a Reno casino lost $26,000 to counterfeiters.
That’s not likely to happen at the new Wynn Las Vegas resort, whose casino will use high-tech betting chips designed to thwart counterfeiting.
The new Wynn chips will look just like regular casino chips, only they will contain radio devices that signal secret serial numbers. Special equipment linked to the casino’s computer system will identify legitimate chips and detect fakes.
"Security-wise, it will be huge for us," said Rick Doptis, vice president of table games at Wynn Las Vegas.
The technology behind the chips is known as radio frequency identification, or RFID, and the concept has been used for years on employee security ID badges and to monitor merchandise at stores like Wal-Mart.
In addition to thwarting counterfeiters, "wireless" casino chips are finding uses in tracking a player’s bets, catching dealer mistakes and deterring chip theft.
But only a few casinos, including the Hard Rock, have put the RFID chips to use. Part of the problem is the cost. Wynn is spending about $2 million on chips, about double the price of regular chips. And that doesn’t include the equipment such as readers, computers and various interfaces.
"Vegas has a little bit of a wait-and-see attitude," said Tim Richards, vice president of marketing for Progressive Gaming International, a manufacturer of the high-tech chips. "They very much view themselves as the primetime casinos, and they want to make sure the product is bulletproof."
Las Vegas-based Shuffle Master has also entered the RFID arena. It recently acquired two RFID-related patents and has partnered with Gaming Partners International to develop new products. Gaming Partners is the supplier of the RFID chips at Wynn Las Vegas.
Shuffle Master officials said the new technology will eventually find wider use in casinos, but the incubation period will be about five years.