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Was the Casino Chip Really Invented in Saratoga Springs?

Rumor has it that that the Canfield Casino was the first to use chips to represent money.

Canfield Casino chips worth $1, $5 and $25 from 19th-century gambling expert John Fignar's collection.

While most Saratogians have been told the story that Saratoga was the birthplace of the potato chip—it’s true, we think—fewer have heard our other chip-related claim: that the casino chip hails from the Spa City. As the legend goes, Richard Canfield, the one-time owner of the Saratoga Clubhouse (later known as the Canfield Casino) and “once the best known gambling resort proprietor in [the] country,” per the New York Times, was the first to use casino chips, long before anyone ever did in Las Vegas. A 2018 WAMC article even corroborated the claim, stating that “During the casino’s 37-year run, it revolutionized gambling by being the first institution to use chips to represent money.”

While Canfield certainly used chips in the Saratoga Clubhouse before they turned up in Sin City—Canfield purchased the casino in 1894 and Vegas wasn’t even officially founded until 1905—casino chips had been around decades earlier, according to John Fignar, a local expert on 19th-century gambling who used to own Saratoga Gaming on Broadway. “The chips [Canfield] used were made of ivory, but in fact, ivory chips went back to the early 1840s, and before that, mother-of-pearl counters were used,” Fignar says. “I wish it were true that Richard Canfield invented the poker chip, but unfortunately that’s not the case.”

What can we say? Saratoga Springs can’t lay claim to all the types of chips. But we’ll always have those crunchy, salty potato chips…we think.   

Natalie Moore
Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore is the managing editor at saratoga living.

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