From Chips to Dice: The Origins of Casino Paraphernalia

min read
Cards, a roulette wheel and gambling chip against a purple background.
BetMGM Nov 16, 2023, 9:24 AM

While a huge portion of keen gamblers opts to play their favorite casino games online nowadays, there’s no denying that traditional, land-based casinos are still enjoyed by many gamblers around the world. When sitting down to play any casino game, you might find yourself wondering where all the different types of casino paraphernalia originated and asking yourself how different it looks today compared to when it was first invented. Here’s everything you need to know about all the different equipment that’s used in casino games.

Cards, gambling chips and a roulette wheel against a white background.

Chips

At most casinos, chips replace cash to ensure a much safer, more amicable environment for all players. They are used in a variety of games and are commonly recognized as blackjack, roulette and poker paraphernalia to ensure fair play. After all, nobody wants to have to worry about disgruntled players grabbing back the money that they lost and making a run for it mid-game! 

Before casino chips were invented, most gamblers played using small, valuable objects in place of real money, from gold nuggets to gold dust. According to various sources, the first “chips” started to be used in the 19th century when casino owners realized that some form of standardization was needed. They were made out of a variety of materials that differed from casino to casino, including wood, ivory, bone and even paper. However, they were extremely easy to forge, which caused several issues, like people using fake chips to cash out, along the way. To solve these problems, companies started manufacturing chips out of a special clay composition, with each casino creating its unique chip design to make it harder for people to defraud them.

These days, many people think that classic casino chips are still made out of clay, but this isn’t always the case. The most common materials used in today’s casino chips are clay, ceramic and plastic, with some using a composite material. Some casino chips are also made out of metal, but these are not that common. No matter what material is used, they are designed to feel good in a player’s hand and last for a long time.

Dice

Many popular casino table games rely on dice for gameplay. In fact, it’s safe to say that gambling dice games are some of the most popular casino games of all time. Think craps, Hazard, Klondike, Chuck-a-Luck and the slightly lesser-known but fast-paced game of Banka Francesca, all of which involve people playing with dice.

Unsurprisingly, dice are considered to be the oldest casino paraphernalia in the world. According to the Ancient Greek writer Sophocles, they were first invented by the Greek Palamedes during the siege of Troy. Other experts point out Greek writer Herodotus’ claims that the first set of dice was actually crafted by the Lydians during King Atys’ reign.

However, there are many archaeologists who believe dice were used even earlier than this, although they looked a lot different from how they are made today. In fact, the dice forerunners are thought to have been made using knucklebones sourced from animals like buffalo and sheep. As time went on, the Greeks and Romans started constructing more modern-looking dice using materials including ivory, bone, porcelain, marble and bronze.

Nowadays, most dice used when playing casino games are made out of plastic or some type of cellulose. Classic “perfect” casino dice are usually hand-made with an accurate tolerance of 0.0001 inch, while rounded “imperfect” dice are most commonly made by machines for use when playing board games and other games during social, more casual gatherings. Even the drilling of pips into the surface is done using incredibly precise tools to ensure the dice’s center of gravity is not affected.

Cards

If you frequent land-based casinos or play at online casinos for real money, you’ll be well aware that the many popular casino games involve the use of a deck of cards. These games include poker, blackjack, rummy and baccarat (and are even now available to play online as live casino games.)

The Chinese are credited with producing the first set of playing cards some time during the 9th century. These were thought to have been created to act as paper forms of Chinese dominos – although it remains a mystery what games these initial playing cards were used for.

Encyclopedia Britannica describes how playing cards first appeared in parts of Europe around the 1370s, likely due to trade with Islamic merchants. Due to the fine imagery painted onto these cards, they were considered luxury goods, a far cry from the “cheap” cards we have access to today. Playing cards continued to be a popular hobby amongst Europe’s wealthy into the 15th century, but several advancements, including wood-block printing and stencils, helped reduce the cost of a deck of cards significantly.

In today’s casinos, decks of playing cards are standard – sometimes even branded – with 52 cards comprising four separate suits (diamonds, spades, hearts, and clubs.) The cards are most commonly made out of various layers of cardboard that have been pasted together for a strong yet flexible finish. Most decks of cards will also include two jokers, even if they are not required for most modern card games.

Roulette Wheel

The origins of the roulette wheel are not what you might expect. The inventor of the roulette wheel didn’t intend to invent one of the world’s most popular games played at a casino. Blaise Pascal, a French physicist, inventor, and mathematician, was actually trying to create a perpetual-motion machine – a machine that operates without any need for an outside source of energy. This ambition went completely against the laws of physics but, like most academics, it was Pascal’s goal to push boundaries. Unfortunately, while he failed in his mission to create such a machine, he did succeed in playing a crucial role in the creation of roulette, which is recognized as one of the most sought-after games played in casinos to this day, with online roulette also being incredibly popular in the digital space.

Desktops and Mobile Devices

Gambling paraphernalia including dice, playing cards, chips and a roulette wheel rising out of a mobile phone screen.

It’s estimated that around 17% of the global population enjoys online gambling. From playing online slot machines to traditional online casino games, there are plenty of benefits associated with embracing the most recent gambling paraphernalia – desktop and mobile devices – including the freedom to play whenever and wherever the mood strikes.

The first online casinos were opened in the 1990s but have certainly come a long way since then. They’ve received more attention than ever since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 limited people’s movement and activities. The most interesting aspect of desktop and mobile devices as casino paraphernalia? They replace the need for all other paraphernalia completely because it’s all there in the digital gaming space, regardless of whether you’re playing live dealer games or classic digital online casino games.

Play Real Online Slots and Casino Table Games at BetMGM

If you don’t want to worry about having the right casino paraphernalia for a game in the comfort of your own home, you can play at a reputable online casino that offers online slots, including jackpot slots, table, and card games instead. At BetMGM we offer a variety of exciting gambling experiences. All you have to do is register with us and then log on from your favorite device, whether that’s your mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.