When you’re at the gaming table, casino chips are your currency. With hundreds of people touching those chips night after night, one can’t help but wonder how safe these chips are for players. Is it safe for you to shuffle these chips between your hands, then eat pretzels while playing poker without any risk of contracting a disease?
Casinos clean their chips, but most of them, even the big ones, only clean their chips once every few days. One study by Bluff Magazine in 2007, revealed that popular casinos have around 2,300 to 2,900 microorganisms per chip. The number isn’t alarming, but what’s in those chips could be dangerous.
It doesn’t tell you the whole story, but it gives you an idea of why you shouldn’t eat anything while playing. If you’re wondering whether casino chips are clean and safe, stick around. We’ll discuss it in great detail, including the measures that casinos take when cleaning chips and why it’s hard for them to keep it clean.
Why Cleaning Casino Chips Is Important
Casino chips change hands hundreds of times every night. In poker, alone, a chip can move countless times every round, which is a perfect example of a fomite. When a person touches a casino chip, it makes him susceptible to all the microorganisms in that chip. It’s also possible that he transmits infectious agents through it and moves to another host.
When you’re playing poker, you expose your hands to all kinds of microorganisms every time you touch a chip. It’s not that bad in itself, especially if these microorganisms were to stay in our hands. However, a recent study from the National Institutes of Health revealed that an average person touches their face 23 times per hour. That’s equivalent to potentially infecting yourself once every 156 seconds when you’re playing poker!
Even if casinos clean their chips, it won’t change our habit of touching our faces. It won’t reduce the number of times that we touch a poker chip, either.
However, regular cleaning or disinfecting can effectively reduce the pathogens and make it a less effective way of transmitting these infectious agents.
Cleaned Casino Chips vs. Clean Casino Chips
Every casino cleans their chips, or at least that’s what they want us to believe. Of course, there are outstanding casinos that disinfect their chips regularly and thoroughly. Most of them, though, only toss chips in washing machines, then call it a day. That’s why there’s a vast difference in the number of microorganisms that you’ll find in casino chips.
On average, there are at least 2,300 to 2,900 microorganisms in a casino chip. Now, that number isn’t that alarming, especially if we’re to compare it with a wooden chopping board that has 61,597 per square inch. That relatively low number proves that casinos clean their chips regularly, but does it really mean that they are safe for humans?
In the same study by Bluff Magazine in 2007, the highest number of microorganisms in a chip was 5,600, which is still low. However, it’s not the number that’s alarming, but the type of pathogens that you’ll find in it.
Staphylococcus is the most common bacterium that they’ve found in chips. We have plenty of it on our skin, but it’s also related to CA-MRSA (Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). Bacillus anthracis is another bacterium in chips, which is an agent for the notorious disease called anthrax. We also have micrococcus and rothia, but these will only affect immunocompromised people.
To answer your question, yes, casinos clean their chips, but it doesn’t mean that they’re actually clean. If we’re only looking at the number of microorganisms on a chip, we can say that it’s relatively clean compared to other fomites. However, the type of pathogens that are on the chips usually cause diseases with a high mortality rate.
Why It Is Difficult to Keep Casino Chips Clean
Keeping casino chips clean is crucial, but not every casino can do it. In fact, if we look at how easy it is for chips to change hands every night, we can safely assume that it’s impossible to keep casino chips clean. Despite the efforts that casinos exert in cleaning chips, why do experts still consider it one of the most potent fomites?
Well, there are two reasons why it can be difficult for casinos to keep their chips clean:
- How people use chips, which is beyond the control of a casino.
- The short-term and long-term cost of cleaning chips regularly.
How people use chips is way beyond what casinos can control.
Imagine a poker table; how many times do you think each chip will change hands in one round? From the betting players to the dealer and, finally, to the winner. That’s already three times in one round, then multiply it with the number of rounds in a game.
Casino chips change hands every night, and every time it does, a chip can potentially be a fomite. You don’t even have to count the number of times that each chip changes hands because it only takes one carrier to infect everyone who touched it. You’ll never know which of the other players is a carrier, and them, shuffling the chips in between their hands could easily transmit an infectious agent.
It doesn’t matter if casinos use the most advanced chip cleaning procedure; it’s almost impossible to keep every chip clean throughout the night. Despite the surge in casinos’ interest in chip cleaning services, casino chips will always remain one of the quickest moving fomites today. In fact, the CDC recently released a guideline on casino and gambling operations in the country, encouraging people to conduct their gaming activities virtually.
The Cost of Cleaning Casino Chips
Cleaning chips, thoroughly or not, has its cost. Aside from the short-term financial strain, cleaning has a more significant effect on casinos’ operational expenses.
The more they keep their chips clean, the faster they’ll need a replacement. Unlike coins that can last for years, casino chips are susceptible to getting worn out.
Here are some of the reasons why casinos don’t clean their chips as often as they should:
- Paint and ink that casinos use for their chips fade faster.
- RFID tags, holograms, and other security measures don’t last long when washed.
- The materials that make up a chip will degrade more quickly.
- They can’t clean old casino chips that are still usable.
So, casinos are in a dilemma: either they regularly clean their chips, replace them more frequently, or do minimal cleaning with their chips, since it doesn’t have much of an impact on their cleanliness.
Instead of regularly cleaning their chips, casinos usually only do it every few days. The older chips get, the fewer washes they get, making it an ideal surface for pathogens to thrive. So, despite the claims that casinos make when it comes to the procedures they use to keep their chips clean, always err on the side of caution when handling them.
Casinos will always do everything that they can to keep their chips clean, as long as it’s within their means. It’s not logical for casinos to keep cleaning their chips, and even if it is, the nature of how we handle chips makes it impossible to keep them clean.
Infectious agents don’t need overnight to infect another person. It only requires a carrier to hold a chip for it to move to another host. The best way to stay safe when at the gaming table is literally in your hands. Stop, or at least try to stop, touching your face while playing poker. And, most importantly, stop eating pretzels.