Casino chips ‘stealthily’ disappearing from Tropicana Las Vegas ahead of final closure
Casino chips ‘stealthily’ disappearing from Tropicana Las Vegas ahead of final closure
Wild Casino

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – Before one of the oldest hotels in Las Vegas could shut its doors for good early Tuesday morning, parts of its casino was already disappearing.

Tropicana Las Vegas doorman Dean Davis has seen people come and go for 33 years, but recently, he said it’s the poker chips that were coming and going.

“An awful lot of people just looking for memorabilia,” Davis said inside the hotel’s Trago Lounge, talking about an increase in foot traffic within the past month. “They ran out of $1 and $5 chips. All they have are the greens and blacks.”

On Monday, signs posted at nearly every roulette, poker, and blackjack table inside the 1950s relic told guests they were out of luck if trying to buy the cheapest chips. “We are no longer selling $1 & $5 dollar chips until further notice,” the signs read.

Bally’s Corporation, which currently operates the facility, shut the Tropicana’s doors early Tuesday to make way for the A’s $1.5 billion baseball stadium. Bally’s confirmed to Nexstar’s KLAS in a statement Monday that they saw “a slight increase in chips not being cashed in.”

The Nevada Gaming Control Board mandates that whatever chips are left after a casino’s closure are destroyed. Many of the venerable casino’s final customers, whether they were allowed to or not, provided the chips new homes, however..

Robert McKee, a website designer living in Fort Worth, Texas, is now in possession of a whole rack of Tropicana chips. He got them during his most recent “chip grab.”

“(The dealers) were restricting people from coming up and buying them, so I had to be a little crafty,” McKee said during a virtual interview Monday morning, reminiscing on his mid-March trip to Las Vegas from Texas while holding the chips he obtained then. “I was kind of stealthily dropping these in my lap.”

McKee’s collection has grown over the decades since his undergrad years at UNLV in the early 90s. From the Castaways Hotel to the Desert Inn Casino, he began collecting chips ahead of property closures. It started with the 1993 implosion of The Dunes.

“The year I went to UNLV was, like, kind of the genesis of all these mega-resorts, and also it started the trend of all these mega implosions,” McKee said. “eBay comes around a couple of years later and I see these things for $50 apiece, and I was like, ‘huh, why did I not buy a rack of those.’”

Chips, like those in McKee’s collection, are listed online for much more than the initial purchase price. Even before the hotel’s closure, a $1 chip from the Tropicana Las Vegas was listed at twenty-seven times its purchase value.

McKee shares in this profit, with some chips of his going as high as $85 a piece online. Of the 300 chips he said he acquired before the 2016 implosion of the Riviera Hotel and Casino, he sold 275 of them.

“(I) sell them one at a time or stacks of 10,” McKee said. “Someone’s always going to take them off your hands for at least what you paid for them, so you really can’t lose.”

But, what doesn’t sell remains a glimpse of history in his back pocket.

“Even though it’s kind of quasi-money, it held a value at one point,” McKee said. “People played, you know, decades of blackjack with these things. So, it’s kind of cool.”

Those who have unwanted poker chips from Tropicana Las Vegas have through mid-summer to cash in, if they want to. The Bally’s Corporation spokesperson the OYO Hotel next door to the property will redeem the chips through July 31, 2024.