South Florida casinos are devising plans on how to clean poker chips amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Mike Stocker / Sun Sentinel)
Do they use a dishwasher? A straightforward hand-washing method? Perhaps an ultrasonic cleaner?
It’s an issue that’s likely been overlooked by gamblers for decades, but has now become extremely relevant as people grapple with the spread of germs amid the coronavirus pandemic: How exactly are poker chips cleaned?
A crucial component of the gaming experience, poker chips pose a tricky dilemma for casinos as they prepare to re-open after being temporarily shut down due to COVID-19. Chips frequently change hands at casinos — from players fiddling with chips at the table to exchanging them with a dealer or cashier.
The majority of South Florida casinos remain closed as they await state approval to open their doors. While the three Seminole Hard Rock casinos in Broward are sovereign and not subject to state business regulations, none of the properties have announced re-opening yet. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa did resume business on May 21, though, offering a glimpse of how the South Florida tribe-owned casinos may operate.
Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen said Hard Rock has devised a “creative” process for disinfecting chips, but declined to provide details.
The Palm Beach Kennel Club has a head-start on the rest of the South Florida after resuming business on May 22 at 50 percent capacity. The West Palm Beach facility, which offers greyhound racing, simulcast wagering and poker, hopes to limit the spread of germs by preventing players and dealers from switching tables.
In addition, chips will be isolated to specific tables and can only leave the game in three ways — the drop box, dealer tip box or by being cashed out at the cage. Once chips are removed from play, they won’t be re-used again until they’re sanitized.
The club plans on disinfecting the chips by hand-washing them individually using “cleaning products that meet CDC guidelines for use and are effective against viruses, bacteria and other airborne and bloodborne pathogens,” per a Palm Beach Kennel Club spokesperson.
At the Big Easy Casino in Hallandale, general manager Daniel Adkins said they’re still formulating official plans, but said employees will routinely clean the facility throughout the day using a spray gun with disinfectant. In addition, the casino bought new playing chips and plans on having them cleaned daily with the spray gun. Adkins added they’ll be only be operating half their card tables, making it easier to continuously swap out clean chips.
Other casinos throughout South Florida did not reveal their safety plans for cleaning gambling chips.
In Las Vegas, chip cleaning businesses have seen a recent surge in interest. One such company, Elite Chip Care, utilizes ultrasonic cleaners and a convection oven in its cleaning process, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The physical process reveals just how grimy chips can become over time.
“When a chip is dropped into the water, a gray cloud of dirt rises alongside hundreds of microscopic bubbles,” creating a sludge at the bottom, per the article.
While hand-washing and spraying options may provide a longer turnaround time, there is a potential new option that will soon be available for casinos. TCSJohnHuxley, a UK-based manufacturer and supplier of gaming products, has recently unveiled a portable chip sanitizer that can clean up to 100 chips in two to three minutes.
Created by TCSJohnHuxley, the chip sanitizer can clean up to 100 playing chips in approximately 2-3 minutes. (Courtesy: TCSJohnHuxley)
Roughly the size of a desk drawer, the device utilizes UV-C light to rapidly sanitize chips. UV-C light inactivates microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, leaving them unable to perform vital cellular functions.
UV-C light is increasingly being used in a variety of high-traffic settings to help eliminate the spread of coronavirus. Portable UV-C light devices have been deployed in hospital rooms, subways, and buses, among other places.
Adkins said the Big Easy Casino is looking into UV-C light devices as potential options for cleaning chips.
TCSJohnHuxley director of marketing Tracy Cohen said they’re already received “loads” of interest in the devices, which they’ll begin shipping out next month. The 100-chip capacity units are priced at $1,500. The company is also developing a stacking trolley, which will allow for 600 chips to be processed in the same time range.