Lake Tahoe casino chips on eBay for $1 million - Saturday 22nd of October 2005

In one of the highest legitimate bids in eBay history, a collection of Nevada casino chips and tokens - some from the felt tables of Bugsy Siegels Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Frank Sinatras Cal Neva and Harrahs Lake Tahoe - has received an opening offer of $1 million.

The gavel is slated to come down on the auction today at 3 p.m. Its owner, a private Denver businessman who assembled the collection over decades, anticipates a heated bidding war in the auctions closing moments.

Covered in the gaming chip collection are significant pieces that came from North Shore casinos. There are chips from the Cal Neva Lodge that date back to 1936, when the resort casino was owned by Bill Graham and James McKay, who also owned the Bank Club casino in Reno.

The Cal Neva was later sold to Frank Sinatra and other partners. The casino gained notoriety when it was the site of an incident involving Chicago mobster Sam "Mom" Giancana, who stayed at the lodge after being banned from Nevada casinos. Because of the association, Sinatra voluntarily surrendered his gaming license in 1963 with the Cal Neva.

Other gaming chips in the platinum collection from the North Lake Tahoe area include: North Shore Club, Jobys Monte Carlo, The Nevada Lodge, the Bal Tabarin and the Crystal Bay Club which includes a unique $25 chip that was used in the 1950s. The Hyatt Regency also has chips represented in the collection.

Experts believe the collection could be valued at more than $2 million, and that some of the 6,800 pieces are worth as much as $70,000 each.

Those pieces - including a vast assembly of casino chips - date back to when gangsters, starlets, and the Rat Pack ruled the tables and swing bands crammed the dance floors.

"Think Sinatra and Dean Martin and Hollywood starlets throwing down chips in Art Deco casinos like the Dunes and Sands," said James Campiglia, a Las Vegas casino memorabilia expert. "Thats where these pieces come from."

"This collection is not reproducible," said Howard Herz, the hobbys foremost chronicler of casino tokens and a longtime Nevada gaming expert who lives in Gardnerville. "If you went out today and attempted to build a similar one, you couldnt do it. Youd have to own pieces from this collection in order to even try."

Campiglia agrees. "It cannot be duplicated," he said. "These are gems from a world that no longer exists - except in our imaginations."

Collecting poker chips from early Las Vegas gambling halls, as well as short-lived casinos from the Old West including Lake Tahoe, Reno and Virginia City, has become one of the hottest collecting hobbies, according to experts.

This collections colorful bits of clay hail from as far back as the 1940s. Many pieces were saved from casinos shuttered by fires or demolished to make way for the monolithic resorts in their place today.

"Interest in the go-go days of Las Vegas is at a peak," says Campiglia. "George Clooney is building a new casino that will bring back the days of old Vegas glamour and style. Younger generations are fascinated by the Old Wests casinos. These chips and tokens are stunning art from that period, and this collection is the most complete in existence."

The anthology - including pieces that are the only known to have survived history - is called The Platinum Collection. Its named for the first token ever legally struck on U.S. soil, and presented to casino magnate William Harrah. That singular token came into existence in Nevada casinos in 1965 when the price of silver shot sky high and folks hoarded silver dollars.

Collectors recall that in one day in 1965, more than 35,000 silver dollars disappeared from casinos. In the aftermath, the U.S. Treasury granted gambling houses the right to strike their own tokens. The rarest of these tokens used in the 1960s and 1970s are included in The Platinum Collection.

Within the collection for auction are about 6,800 gaming chips and tokens. A number of the clay gaming chips, used at card tables are Harrahs issues that include the famous logo on them of a sultan sitting in the middle of a harem. These chips were used from 1955 to 1960. Used at the Lake Club and Harrahs in Tahoe, these chips are valued in the thousands of dollars, Herz said.

Gaming tokens

Gaming tokens rather than legal tender were used in slot machines at Lake Tahoe casinos beginning in 1965. The reason was that the United States faced a coin shortage, Herz explained. Added to the shortage was a rise in the price of silver to a point where silver dollars, which were used in the slot machines, become more valuable than their face value.

"The gaming tokens replaced the use of silver dollars in slot machines and on the gaming tables," Herz said.

In 1965, the first gaming token struck by the Franklin Mint for Harrahs owner Bill Harrah was a single platinum presentation piece. Only one was made and it is in the collection for auction.

"The only way I can describe the significance of this piece is to imagine Ford making their first collection of Mustangs off the assembly line with only one of those Mustangs being made in 24 carat gold," Herz said.

The platinum collection contains more than 3,400 gaming tokens from around Nevada. It is the most complete collection and contains the rarest issues from 1965, when the token collection began.

Also in the token collection are rarities from Harveys Resort Casino, Herz said.

"Besides being in the best possible condition, many of the tokens in the collection are either unique or extremely rare samples and pattern pieces," he said.

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