In one of the highest legitimate bids in eBay history, a collection of Nevada casino chips and tokens - some from the felt tables of Bugsy Siegel's Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra's Cal Neva and Harrah's Lake Tahoe - has received an opening offer of $1 million.
The gavel is slated to come down on the auction today at 3 p.m. Its owner, a private Denver businessman who assembled the collection over decades, anticipates a heated bidding war in the auction's closing moments.
Covered in the gaming chip collection are significant pieces that came from North and South shore casinos. There are chips from the Cal Neva Lodge that date back to 1936, when the resort casino was owned by Bill Graham and James McKay, who also owned the Bank Club casino in Reno.
The Cal Neva was later sold to Frank Sinatra and other partners. The casino gained notoriety when it was the site of an incident involving Chicago mobster Sam "Mom" Giancana, who stayed at the lodge after being banned from Nevada casinos. Because of the association, Sinatra voluntarily surrendered his gaming license in 1963 with the Cal Neva.
Experts believe the collection could be valued at more than $2 million, and that some of the 6,800 pieces are worth as much as $70,000 each.
Those pieces - including a vast assembly of casino chips - date back to when gangsters, starlets, and the Rat Pack ruled the tables and swing bands crammed the dance floors.
"Think Sinatra and Dean Martin and Hollywood starlets throwing down chips in Art Deco casinos like the Dunes and Sands," said James Campiglia, a Las Vegas casino memorabilia expert. "That's where these pieces come from."
"This collection is not reproducible," said Howard Herz, the hobby's foremost chronicler of casino tokens and a longtime Nevada gaming expert who lives in Gardnerville. "If you went out today and attempted to build a similar one, you couldn't do it. You'd have to own pieces from this collection in order to even try."
Campiglia agrees. "It cannot be duplicated," he said. "These are gems from a world that no longer exists - except in our imaginations."
Collecting poker chips from early Las Vegas gambling halls, as well as short-lived casinos from the Old West including Lake Tahoe, Reno and Virginia City, has become one of the hottest collecting hobbies, according to experts.
This collection's colorful bits of clay hail from as far back as the 1940s. Many pieces were saved from casinos shuttered by fires or demolished to make way for the monolithic resorts in their place today.
The anthology - including pieces that are the only known to have survived history - is called The Platinum Collection. It's named for the first token ever legally struck on U.S. soil, and presented to casino magnate William Harrah. That singular token came into existence in Nevada casinos in 1965 when the price of silver shot sky high and folks hoarded silver dollars.
Collectors recall that in one day in 1965, more than 35,000 silver dollars disappeared from casinos. In the aftermath, the U.S. Treasury granted gambling houses the right to strike their own tokens. The rarest of these tokens used in the 1960s and 1970s are included in The Platinum Collection.
Within the collection for auction are about 6,800 gaming chips and tokens. A number of the clay gaming chips, used at card tables are Harrah's issues that include the famous logo on them of a sultan sitting in the middle of a harem. These chips were used from 1955 to 1960. Used at the Lake Club and Harrah's in Stateline, these chips are valued in the thousands of dollars, Herz said.