The history of the Key West Resort & Casino Chip
The history of the Key West casino chip begins with the unique "H" mold, and pre-dates Las Vegas itself. Indeed, the twin steel plates used to press the chips, engraved with the chip's unique design, goes back the the 1920s, and a time when all gambling was illegal in the United States.
Modern, professional casino chips are made using a process called "compression molding." Only a few companies worldwide make real casino chips, and each uses a closely guarded proprietary recipe of clay and other materials, pressing out the discs that will become casino chips in massive machines under high pressures and temperatures. Made to exacting standards of size, weight and quality, the resulting chips incorporate a number of security features to prevent counterfeiting, including the inlay art, the chip colors, and even the mold design around the rim of the chip.
The finished casino chips will be worth their face value in cash inside a casino, a status usually spelled out in the laws of gaming states. Because they are a replacement currency, the production process is conducted inside secure, often unmarked facilities. Several measures against counterfeiting are incorporated into the chips.
"Edge spots" are added by hand to some denominations to add to the chip's appearance, to complement or contrast the base color, making it easier to identify in low light, and to make it more difficult to counterfeit. The edge spots also make the chips easier to see and count when paying bets or when video surveillance is used to resolve a dispute.
All the Key West chips have "312" edge spots -- three edge spots that are 1/2 inch wide.
A rare look inside the world of casino chip production: Some Key West chips during final pressing at ASM's the old ASM factory in Las Vegas in January, 2013. (Photo courtesy ASM.)
The H mold, used to make Key West Resort & Casino chips, was created by the Burt Co., a predecessor to today's Classic Poker Chips. The mold was actually made for the H.C. Edwards Company, a New York distributor of poker chips. On his casino chip page, historian Robert Eisenstadt notes that H.C. Edwards kept its client records on index cards in a shoe box, often "encrypting" the records by recording orders under false names and addresses -- a practice that continued into the 1980s. While many H.C. Edwards customers were wealthy private citizens, local lodges and social halls, other "clients" bought enough casino chips to operate a small casino, and were listed in company records as "ice cream parlors." We can assume selling ice cream may not have been their primary business.
From the U.S. Patent Office: An early sketch of the "H" mold design, from the original patent application. (It was granted.)
So all original H mold chips were "illegals," in the jargon of the collector. Indeed, some H mold chips made well after 1931 were also illegals, with some even landing, eventually, in police evidence rooms as the subject of case law in illegal gambling cases. In their early days, and in many U.S. states even more recently, it was illegal to own a casino chip or use it for gambling.
But history would intervene to bring these chips out of obscurity in one U.S. state, in the fall of 1929. The stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed prompted the Nevada legislature to take drastic action to increase state revenues. On March 19, 1931, Nevada became the first American state to legalize casino gambling, and the sleepy village of Las Vegas Springs would soon see its first legal gambling casino since the Gold Rush of 1869. Men at work on the Boulder Dam and other large Depression-Era construction projects would flock to Las Vegas to gamble.
A small producer of billiard balls and game pieces in Portland, Maine, would supply Las Vegas with its table chips. The Portland Billiard Ball Company would produce real clay gaming chips for the casino industry under one name or another until today. The company has been known as The Portland Billiard Ball Company, The Burt Company (for its founder, Alanzo Burt), Atlantic Standard Molding, American Standard Molding, and now, Classic Poker Chips.
Throughout all of that time, the company would make casino chips using one set of machines, one group of chip molds, and a single formula to create chips for licensed casinos and discerning private collectors.
The genuine article: A real $5 chip from the Sahara Hotel Casino, Las Vegas and the late 1960s, and a $5 Key West Resort & Casino chip, both on the H mold.
Early casino chips from the Aladdin, Caesar's Palace, The Flamingo, the Sands, the Stardust and the Sahara, Las Vegas, (pictured, above) were all made with the H mold using the same mold, recipe and formula which, more recently, pressed out our latest batch of Key West chips. Key West chips are pressed on the "H" mold, two steel plates engraved with the chip design and pictured in the left column. Only one mold has ever existed, and it has been used to make every chip that carries the H mold design. The photo at left is believed to be the only known photo of the compression molding machines at work to be released to the public.
In the 1970s and 80s, several casino chip manufacturers changed names or owners, leaving only ASM and two competitors producing real casino chips in North America.
The creation of Key West chip inlay design
ASM placed the H mold back into production in 2004. Enter Apache Poker Chips, a Las Vegas retailer of fine casino chips and historic collector chips. The company wanted to create a classic, 1950s-style casino chip, authentic in every detail, to offer for sale to a growing number of home poker players. They enlisted the help of John Faulhaber of J5 Design, and Greg Cagle, the creative force behind the most successful line of home poker chips, the Paulson Pharaoh chips. The design team selected the name "Key West," as there was no "Key West Resort & Casino" in Las Vegas or anywhere else at the time. For this reason, the Key West is classified a "fantasy casino chip" in the collector world -- a real chip from a casino that never existed or opened.
No detail was overlooked. Apache owner Josh Shore selected traditional "Vegas" chip colors from ASM's color palette. For the inlay, the design team even used fonts popular in the 1950s and 1960s. The casino name was set in "Coronet," a script font from the 1930s, and set the large red denomination numbers in "Century," available since 1895 and selected for its clarity and readability. The artwork was simple, elegant and reminiscent of Old Las Vegas.
In the fall of 2004, the group took their design to ASM, who produced the first Key West chips exactly as they did 90 years before. The original denominations were: NCV, 25 cents, $1, $5, $25, $100, $500, $1,000 and $5,000.
The unusual retro chip was an immediate hit among collectors and was highly rated by industry critics, one of whom called the chip "scary cool." Reviewers noted it contained all the attributes of a great chip -- a nice inlay set into a quality high-end chip in subdued, traditional casino colors. "It's exactly what you'd expect to see at a high-end casino," wrote one reviewer.
The chips sold worldwide for the next five years. In 2007, when news broke that some old Las Vegas chips contained lead, ASM's chips were unaffected. The company's recipe uses brass powder -- not lead -- to add weight to their chips.
By 2010, Apache's original supply of Key Wests was running low, and the company considered discontinuing the Key West chips. In July, 2011, a Delaware casino chip collector purchased the Key West inlay art from Apache in order to continue making chips with ASM.
To revitalize the Key West line, the new owner enlisted the help of the original artist, John Faulhaber of J5 Design, and added new denominations -- 5 cents, $2.50, and $25,000 chips. Together, they added new products, like casino-quality playing cards and dealer buttons. This website was launched in November, 2012.
With the retirement of longtime owner Jim Blanchard in 2012, ASM was sold to two partners who kept the business for just over a year. In December, 2013, two veterans of the casino chip collector world -- David Sarles and David Spragg -- purchased ASM's assets and formula, and convinced Blanchard to come out of retirement to run chip production for them, naming the new company "Classic Poker Chips."
Today, all Key West Resort & Casino chips are made at Classic Poker Chips' manufacturing facility in Portland, Maine. Our playing cards are made by the Liberty Playing Card Company of Arlington, Texas, and dealer buttons by PGI, Holly Hills, Florida. Our casino equipment -- like dealer shoes, layouts and roulette wheels -- are supplied by a Las Vegas distributor to licensed casinos, and even our website host and virtual game program company are located in the United States.
Key West's concept is simple: Offer a complete line of casino-quality chips, playing cards and gaming table accessories, made by casino industry manufacturers, to the home player -- the finest gaming supplies available, with or without a casino license.
The Key West Resort & Casino is not a real casino, and does not operate any gaming operation, on the web or elsewhere. It's a line of fine gaming equipment made by casino industry manufacturers for Continental Games, LLC, Wilmington, Delaware. The Key West Resort & Casino logo is is a trademark of Continental Games, and is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. The Continental Card & Game Co. complies with the requirements of 15 USC § 1173. Click to visit Key West's Responsible Gaming page.