Chip collecting proves viable as business

Aug 19, 2008 7:02 PM

By Kevin Stott| Living in Las Vegas presents a number of unique opportunities for all of us that simply wouldn’t be possible almost anywhere else on the planet.

For the last 10 years, casino chip collector Pete Rizzo has turned that unique opportunity not only into a hobby but also into a viable business with his company Old Vegas Chips.

"We got into it when we moved out here from LA," Rizzo said of the hobby he and wife Chantal – who has her own collection of 200-300 room cards – have been involved with for the last decade. "We’d just go into the different casinos and go to eat buffets and stuff like that. But it really took off when I started valet parking at the Mirage."

After amassing a mini-collection of about 200 chips, the Rizzos decided to sell to raise money for a down payment on their house. But their passion for those little round colorful discs used in lieu of currency in the casinos returned strong and soon a new collection was born. And a new business.

The Rizzo’s website, oldvegaschips.com, is a little bit commerce and a little bit cyberspace collector’s album and museum.

One look at the site at one simply becomes overwhelmed with how much information is included. Besides selling chips and chip supplies and other collectibles, the Rizzo’s site also has a great section called the Las Vegas Casino Chip Museum, a cornucopia of over 10,000 chips and slot tokens from a Las Vegas past.

With pictures of rare chips from such relatively unheard of places like the Green Shack Casino (1932-1956), the Ho Casino (1995), the Alystra Casino (1995-98), the Cinnabar Casino (1951-59), Foxy’s Firehouse Casino (1976-1988), the La Rue Casino (1950-54), the 49’er Club (1945-1965) and the Jolley Trolley (1977-1981), the site’s casino chip museum is well worth a gander.

Asked what the favorite chip in his collection is, Rizzo, who said he puts about 40 hours weekly into this endeavor, sounds like a father trying to choose his favorite child.

"I like the ones from the older places, especially the Flamingo the Dunes the Sands," he said. "Chips from those places I would never sell. Probably about half of that (LV Casino Chip Museum collection) isn’t for sale, it’s just my collection."

Like most hobbies, the laws of supply and demand rule. And like other collectibles, the public’s inclination to collect casino chips ebbs and flows. But Rizzo said there is always a demand for the more historic, obsolete chips.

"The popularity of the older stuff is always great," said Rizzo who admits his favorite chips are the regular house chips that they keep on the table all the time. "But the casinos releasing all of their collectible chips for the 4th of July and stuff like that has (caused the interest to) kind of drop off. Hard Rock, for instance, used to be so hot and now it’s just cool. Everyone was just tossing them up on eBay and they were just kind of whored out if you ask me."

But as long as there are old chips, Rizzo, who says that the $1 chips are the most collected, feels this marketplace will be just fine.

"The old stuff will continue to increase in price. And all of the people that have been coming out here to Las Vegas will get kind of sentimental down the road and will want chips from where they’ve been," he said.

On the website, Rizzo has a picture of a previously unknown Sands Hotel $5 casino chip which he says was sold at auction for over $33,000 in 2004, a transaction of which he writes "currently holds the record for a documented amount paid for a chip."

Although there are many vehicles to sell casino chips and collectibles, Rizzo admitted that eBay is the best modern marketplace for such transactions.

"If I had a chip that I wanted to sell that was worth $20,000 to $30,000, I would put it on eBay," he said. "There are a lot of people that look at eBay daily where my website, people might come every few days."

Finding older, rare and obsolete chips is no easy task, especially now in 2008 but Rizzo uses that resource that always seems to get the job done – good old-fashioned people power.

"The best resource to the whole thing if you’re in it like I am is to develop relationships with the people in the cage," Rizzo said. "I hate to say it, but when they go out of their way to get you something, you have to make sure that you tip. If the cage cashier goes through her racks of chips for something you want and you stiff her … I always over-tip the cashiers and I give them my (business) card in case someone comes in with something old so they can give me a call."

You can check out the Rizzo’s website by logging on to www.oldvegaschips.com. If you would like to contact Old Vegas Chips, you can call them at (702) 804-5081 or write them at Old Vegas Chips, P.O. Box 371214, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89137.