Memories of the Playboy Hotel Casino, Atlantic City (1 Viewer)

dennis63

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Playboy 1.jpg

The Playboy Hotel Casino as it appeared on a 1981 postcard.
Authors note: On Friday, April 17, 1981, I was a high school senior on Easter break and joined a group of friends on the drive from the Philadelphia area to Atlantic City, hoping to fake our way into a casino. Our group unknowingly arrived on the opening weekend of the Playboy Hotel Casino. This weekend marks an anniversary of that trip. From memory, and a little research, I offer the following. -- dennis63

A visit to the Playboy Hotel Casino, Atlantic City

As the sun set on Good Friday, 1981, the East Coast’s gambling faithful gathered below a new beacon on the Atlantic City skyline – a white rabbit symbolic of the Playboy empire, shining 22 stories above the street against the black glass background of the Playboy Hotel Casino.

In a time far removed from the political correctness of later decades, and not so far removed from the Silly 70s, the rabbit represented wealth and sophistication. Hugh Hefner, the public face of Playboy, built an empire around his magazine, carefully mixing high fashion, first-class fiction and cutting-edge interviews with glamorous models and artsy nude photo layouts. On this April night, Playboy Magazine boasted a monthly circulation of 7 million, with 35 Playboy clubs catering to nearly a million members from Chicago to Osaka. Once decried as pornography by the prim-and-proper society of the 1950s, the magazine had matured with the country. Playboy was now main-stream, fashionable and serious, but always with a wink.

As Hefner and his largely silent Las Vegas partners prepared to open Atlantic City’s seventh casino, there was no question what it would be called. Playboy’s game in Atlantic City would not be blackjack or craps, roulette or even the very-French Chemin de Fer, though it played them all. The game was to sell the exclusive club that was Playboy to a clientele eager for the thrill of the city’s finest casino. The world of Playboy Magazine, created in Hefner’s fantasies and brought to life through the lenses and airbrushes of his photographers, became a real place – a place average people could visit. And they did.

The building itself was a long, thin rectangle stretching along the boardwalk at Florida Avenue. Las Vegas architect Martin Stern, Jr., who built the MGM Grand, crafted Playboy into a black, futuristic tower, with a wide base and a thinner ascent, its top floors jutting outward on the ocean side. The dark glass coating the entire complex glistened with reflected sunlight during the day, and turned an elegant black with nightfall. On the north and south sides, the giant Playboy emblem, black with a white, bow-tied rabbit head, covered the top floors.

South of the main hotel was the Playboy’s massive, five-story theater and 1,000-seat Playboy cabaret, with twin footbridges spanning the courtyard two stories below.

The hotel featured four restaurants. The finest was the Chat Noir. Named for its 19th Century Parisian predecessor, it showcased world-class French cuisine served in a room fit for European royalty. There were three bars, a shopping arcade, and a members-only Playboy Key Club. Above, the 500 guest rooms and six VIP suites were the best in town.

Playboy spent months securing its casino license, and filled the gaming halls with 120 tables, 10 roulette wheels and 1,262 slot machines. It hired hundreds of trained dealers, pit bosses and supervisors, and developed systems to handle the flood of cash that would wash in like the tide. After four days of gambling with play money under the scrutiny by New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission, Playboy was qualified to trade its chips for the real thing. The casino was ready to open to the public.

The setting sun signaled this first weekend evening of play, and the rabbit cast its first wink on the city. Throngs of people streamed through the courtyard below the footbridges, now lit in gold. Eager for their first glimpse of Hefner’s creation, they would find an oasis of opulence and beauty in the center of a still-rough, still-urban Atlantic City. Playboy Enterprises and its partner, Elsinore Corporation, poured and astounding $159 million into its palace on the Jersey shore, the equivalent of more than a half billion dollars today, and it showed.

Playboy Prominade.jpg
IMG_0001 (2).jpg

Two images from Playboy's 1981 article featuring their newest property in Atlantic City. The courtyard at
the main entrance, and David Wynne's sculpture, "The two swimmers." (Credit: Richard Fegley, Playboy.)

The courtyard became a promenade. Fashionably dressed new arrivals walked past a central fountain, where David Wynne’s sculpture The Two Swimmers depicted a man and woman in a swirling underwater pursuit of each other. In the lobby, the low, black ceiling glowed with hundreds of gold lights and opened into the giant atrium, revealing the three-story steel, brass and glass sculpture, Northern Lights, between two long escalators. A bank of elevators, with interior walls of mirrored gold, carried new players on a short ride to the first of three levels of casinos.

There, guests entered warmly lit salons draped in elegant dark colors with every detail meant to convey sophistication and wealth. There were high, paneled ceilings, ornate Persian rugs, and dark walls. The muted bells of the slot machines and the whir of the single-zero roulette wheel filled the air. A four-piece jazz band played riffs from inside “Hef’s” nightclub nearby. In a first for an American casino, massive picture windows provided panoramic views of the ocean.

Though it boasted over 50,000 square feet of gaming space, the building’s thin footprint meshed with Hefner’s plan to feature smaller, richly appointed gaming halls inspired by Europe’s most exclusive clubs. In a break from its Las Vegas cousins, the Playboy was not brimming with movie props to remind guests of a theme. They were brought into the world of the high-roller, and treated like one.

Hostesses clad in pink Playboy bunny costumes, complete with ears and tail, carried drinks to players. “Cigarette Bunnies” strolled through the crowd, while bunnies in black dealt at the tables. It wouldn’t be Playboy without the bunnies, and there were bunnies.

Drawn from the thousands of East Coast women who competed for the costumes, the winners entered the whirlwind finishing school that was “bunny training.” There, they would learn to live the “Bunny Manual,” the corporate rulebook on how to look, act and even stand, like a bunny. Each new bunny was between 18 and 23 years old -- the only qualification officially listed in Playboy’s recruiting ads. The ads always featured the photo of a glamorous bunny in the costume, showing off the other qualifications. Despite the public’s presumptions about the work, bunnies were forbidden to date, or even to mingle, with guests. Casual conversation was taboo, too, unless the bunny was promoting a Playboy product.

IMG_0002 (2).jpg

A roulette croupier in 1981. (Credit: Richard Fegley, Playboy.)

The bunnies were paid a pittance by the casino, and some didn’t bother to pick up their paychecks. They worked for tips, and often earned over $10,000 a year -- considerably more than other women at the time. Bunnies were forbidden to solicit tips, of course. The bunny costume -- a one-piece skin-tight swimsuit with a cotton tail, collar, cuff links and bunny ears -- did its part to ensure there would be tips. Nature did the rest.

As the bunnies moved through the crowd, tuxedo-clad dealers swept away countless $20-, $50- and $100-bills, doling out stacks of the club’s unique casino chips across the purple felt of the gaming tables. With each exchange, new players were offered a confident, “Good luck,” as play began.

No expense was spared, and even the chips were part of the finery. They were designer affairs -- the most expensive of their time -- crafted by casino industry legend Bernard “Bud” Jones. Large metal coins of mirror-polished steel were minted with the company name in its signature typeface, then set inside a composite ring of the chip‘s color -- dictated by New Jersey law. White, red and green chips represented one, five and twenty five dollars. The black $100s and purple $500s were rarer, used more often in the third-floor high-roller rooms. The rabbit was cast into each coin, and the rings, too, had tiny rabbit-shaped “edge spots.” At a hefty 12 grams each, the Playboy’s chips, like everything else at the casino, looked and felt expensive.

Nickel.jpg
Playboy Set 3.jpg

Photos of some Playboy Atlantic City Bud Jones chips, from the
author's own collection.

On this night, many of the casinos famous chips, or "cheques," as they're called in the industry, were in counting rooms, the secure distribution centers where chips were counted and locked into acrylic cases for their guarded trip to the tables. At the tables, players traded in paper money of every variety for stacks of the uniform giant coins. Winning players would carry their chips off to the cashier’s cage, while losing players saw their chips swept quickly off the tables.

When they returned to the counting rooms, at the end of play, black metal lockboxes of cash, collected at the tables, would travel with them. There, chips and cash were meticulously counted and the surplus was added to the casino’s daily “win.” The chips and money would then part ways, never to meet again. Sealed bank bags brimming with cash would travel through secure hallways and elevators under heavy guard to the casino’s massive vault, behind casino offices on the main floor. Their day's journey would end in metal cabinets along one wall of the vault -- cabinets that held the untold fortune that gave the chips their value.

In the secretive world of casino security, even the dealers and croupiers, who adeptly handled a fortune in chips each day, had no inkling of the total number in the building. Together, the tiny, colorful discs are thought to have numbered a quarter million -- a stack 10 times taller than the building itself. Like all casino chips, the Playboy’s chips were an artful illusion, made for easy counting and more secure than paper money, speeding the pace of play. They also helped conceal another secret of the casino industry: players risk, and lose, more with a replacement currency than with real money. And at any given time, the three bustling casino floors at the Playboy held millions of dollars in chips to be won or lost -- but mostly lost -- as they moved from casino to player and back again.

On the casino floors, the first-night gamblers traded the chips for the thrill of the wager. Wealthy businessmen brushed elbows with distracted, bunny-watching college kids. Men with New York accents sat riffling their chips at a blackjack table, while young couples as perfect as the magazine’s images gathered around, helping to create the scene, the illusion, that was this world. Word spread through the casino that Hugh Hefner, the personality behind the empire, was in the building, and would be making an appearance later that night.

In the course of the evening, stacks of chips would rise and vanish as the dealers and croupiers churned out the evening’s profits. In all casinos, the games give a slight edge to the house as players come and go, creating the industry’s only sure bet -- with each passing hour, the casino will be, ever so slightly, ahead.

But the odds were better at the Playboy than at any of the city’s other casinos, and there were winners. In the tradition of all casinos, the skilled and the lucky would push a chip or two forward and announce, “For the dealer,” before they “colored up,” trading their chips for higher values to carry off to the cashier’s cage. The unlucky shrugged away their losses as the cost of an evening out, ever certain that their luck would turn on their next visit.

To the players, the chips were the price of admission to this world, their stake in the surroundings, and their chance at fortune. For them, the evening was a brief, happy diversion. And like all good hosts, the Playboy crew of 3,000 pampered its guests like no other. They shared in the joy of the winners, for paying the winners brought new players to the tables, and another chance to win.

In the end, it was Playboy who took the biggest gamble. In January, 1982, an overzealous Casino Control Commission barred Hefner from the casino offices on thin charges. Elsinore would keep the name, but without Hefner to validate it, the casino would falter. Under Hefner, the casino saw a $9-million profit in 9 months. In 1982, without him and playing against a growing number of casino competitors, it lost more than $10 million.

By 1984, Playboy executives had disentangled their company from the venture. The bunnies were jetting off to clubs in other cities. The giant rabbit would be stripped from the building and Hefner’s former partners would scour every floor, expunge every Playboy symbol and obliterate every trace of the brand. To protect thousands of former Playboy workers who received the club’s signature chips as tips, the Casino Control Commission set aside a special fund from casino gaming tax revenues -- said to be a million dollars -- to pay the face value of any legally owned chip carried out of the casino -- a fund that still exists, largely untouched, today. To protect that fund -- and the value of chips outside the building -- the chips inside were unceremoniously pulled from the casino floors. Without the backing of a casino vault brimming with cash, the chips were deemed worthless and ordered destroyed. Casino executive who once spent fortunes to guard the chips inside their casino home now contracted with a faraway metal shop to destroy them.

In the spring of 1984, the chips were carted to the elevators and muscled through the first-floor supply rooms to a loading dock. There, while two casino accountants watched, they were pushed into the back of an unmarked tractor trailer. The cargo door slammed, casting the chips into darkness, and the truck crept north toward Artic Avenue. Barely four years removed from the glory of that first night, the last remaining tokens of the Playboy empire left Atlantic City on a thousand-mile ride to destruction. No one who was part of that day could know that the chips were to be played once more, in a game far into the future.

Even the building would vanish in a frenzy of wins and losses, of corporate buying and selling that moved faster than a round of Monopoly, the game fashioned after the city’s own streets. Twice sold and three times renamed, the black tower would fall to the wrecking ball in the year 2000. Today, the 14 acre plot at Florida and the Boardwalk is an empty lot.

In the end, Hefner’s oasis proved, like all great fantasies cast on the sand, to be a mirage.
 
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dennis63

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Some of the specific menories of the place were:

  • How quiet it was inside. There was a lot of activity, just not at the high volume you find in a casino these days. The slot machine sounds were only the whir of the gears and very muted bells. No other sound effects.
  • How well-dressed everyone was. It was an event! Men in suits, women in evening gowns. My guys were all wearing suits, as we were coming from another event and figured being dressed right would help us get in. (That and the fact that one of my buddies was 6 feet 4 inched tall with a full beard in high school.)
  • The atmosphere. When you sat at the blackjack table, you really felt like you were the center of attention. The dealers were fantastic. The service was top notch. People were gathered around the tables to watch the game, which lots of gamblers consider unlucky these days
  • That bunny! I was standing in a crowded aisle between the tables and someone bumped into me from behind. I turned around and was face to face with one of the most beaitiful women I've ever seen. (Think Reese Witherspoon at about 22 in a tiny bunny costume.) At that time in America, it was, of course, the dream of every healthy American high school boy to meet a Playboy bunny. I think I was extra healthy.

I'm still sad that the place stayed only four years, and not 40.
 
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ekricket

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View attachment 443134
The Playboy Hotel Casino as it appeared on a 1981 postcard.
Authors note: On Friday, April 17, 1981, I was a high school senior on Easter break and joined a group of friends on the drive from the Philadelphia area to Atlantic City, hoping to fake our way into a casino. Our group unknowingly arrived on the opening weekend of the Playboy Hotel Casino. This weekend marks an anniversary of that trip. From memory, and a little research, I offer the following. -- dennis63


...... To protect thousands of former Playboy workers who received the club’s signature chips as tips, the Casino Control Commission set aside a special fund from casino gaming tax revenues -- said to be a million dollars -- to pay the face value of any legally owned chip carried out of the casino -- a fund that still exists, largely untouched, today. To protect that fund -- and the value of chips outside the building -- the chips inside were unceremoniously pulled from the casino floors. Without the backing of a casino vault brimming with cash, the chips were deemed worthless and ordered destroyed. Casino executive who once spent fortunes to guard the chips inside their casino home now contracted with a faraway metal shop to destroy them.

Does this mean these can be redeemed at face value somewhere? Asking for a friend that worked there and collected tips.....

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Pl...199114?hash=item3b45a03a8a:g:-ucAAOSwpc1emLzW
 

dennis63

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Does this mean these can be redeemed at face value somewhere? Asking for a friend that worked there and collected tips.....

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Pl...199114?hash=item3b45a03a8a:g:-ucAAOSwpc1emLzW

A few months after the dig was discovered, I read that you could still cash a Playboy Atlantic City chip at the office of New Jersey's Casino Control Commission, but you had to sign an affidavit that the chip did not come from the dig and that you received it legally before the casino closed. So they were, in effect, saying "no chips from the dig."

I'm guessing whatever money was earmarked to pay for legit chips received as tips has gone untouched.
 

TeddyBToronto

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Great read! But I have a question. The text of the story indicates that roulette at the Playboy Casino in Atlantic City offered the more bettor-favorable single zero wheel, BUT the photo of a roulette table, credited to Richard Fegley, appears to show a betting field with both single zero and double zero as bet options. Can you clarify this?
 

dennis63

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Great read! But I have a question. The text of the story indicates that roulette at the Playboy Casino in Atlantic City offered the more bettor-favorable single zero wheel, BUT the photo of a roulette table, credited to Richard Fegley, appears to show a betting field with both single zero and double zero as bet options. Can you clarify this?

Great catch. I hadn't noticed this in the past. I really wish I could explain exactly where the photo was taken, but the original article does not say. The photo of the courtyard is certainly the Playboy, Atlantic City, as I recognize it from my visit.

I did not personally play roulette the night I was there, and stayed at the blackjack tables. In the magazine's article about the casino after it opened, it's noted that they had only single-zero wheels. It was said that the "single-zero" wheels were another feature of the European style Hefner was trying to express.

Looking closely at the photo, it may have simply been staged for illustration, as there appear to be quite a few live value chips on the roulette layout, or perhaps taken elsewhere. The timeframe would have been 1981, the year the casino opened, as the photo appeared in a 1981 issue.
 
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redeagle

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what a great post and story. I wish there were more like this about the early days of the classic vegas casinos. it’s always my favorite part of most poker books.
 

TeddyBToronto

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Thanks very much for responding to my question regarding the roulette gaming offered by Playboy in Atlantic City. Your observations and analysis were very interesting and definitely helped me better understand the background behind the photo. Thanks again for taking the time and sharing your knowledge!
 

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Some of the specific menories of the place were:

  • How quiet it was inside. There was a lot of activity, just not at the high volume you find in a casino thrse days. The slot machine sounds were only the whir of the gears and very muted bells. No other sound effects.
  • How well-dressed everyone was. It was an event! Men in suits, women in evening gowns. My guys were all wearing suits, as we were coming from another event and figured being dressed right would help us get in. (That and the fact that one of my buddies was 6 feet 4 inched tall with a full beard in high school.)
  • The atmosphere. When you sat at the blackjack table, you really felt like you were the center of attention. The dealers were fantastic. The service was top notch. People were gathered around the tables to watch the game, which lots of gamblers consider unlucky these days
  • That bunny! I was standing in a crowded aisle between the tables and someone bumped into me from behind. I turned around and was face to face with one of the most beaitiful women I've ever seen. (Think Reese Witherspoon at about 22 in a tiny bunny costume.) At that time in America, it was, of course, the dream of every healthy American high school boy to meet a Playboy bunny. I think I was extra healthy.

I'm still sad that the place stayed only four years, and not 40.

It was before my time, but I do agree how nice things were when people dressed up to go out for an evening, or even take a flight. I have heard some great stories from my father in law and mother in law about the playboy in Atlantic city and i believe Vernon valley nj (i think they didnt have gambling but it was a golf and spa resort). They would talk about how you dress to impress or wouldnt get in, how you got pampered. And for that cheap ass to say you had such a good time you didnt care if you lost some money, really meant something...lol
 

dennis63

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Is it an urban legend that the bunnies from Atlantic City posed for a pictorial in Playboy Magazine?
It's my understanding that women from all over the Northeast applied to work as bunnies at the Playboy. Once selected, they went through "bunny school," and worked on the casino floor in the bunny costume.

They were very beautiful, but I don't believe any were featured in the magazine during the casino's short life.
 

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It's my understanding that women from all over the Northeast applied to work as bunnies at the Playboy. Once selected, they went through "bunny school," and worked on the casino floor in the bunny costume.

They were very beautiful, but I don't believe any were featured in the magazine during the casino's short life.
I used to work with some of the former bunnies after Playboy closed. It was always rumored that one of the girls posed topless while another wore a see-through negligee and was shot from the side. I can't post their real names here (but they appeared in the magazine I was told by the boyfriend of one of them). I've contacted Playboy Magazine and a Facebook Atlantic City Playboy Casino group and they would neither deny or confirm that such photos were published.
 

dennis63

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anyone got a sample set for sale? preferable in good condition
There are plenty of these chips still around. Some denominations are more rare than others. ($1s are hard to find, and I've never seen anything over a $500.) A couple of people on PCF have large sets.

The condition is iffy, at best. Most of the surviving chips are from "the dig," where the chips were buried from 1984 until 2009. Fewer Playboy chips were held by collectors after the casino closed and would be in excellent condition.

I own some, and would call their condition "good considering." They're pretty good, considering they were buried for 25 years. They're playable.

Before the 2009 discovery, prices for any chips that made it out of the casino, and away from the NJCCC's efforts to destroy the chips, were priced many times their face value. The discovery shot a giant hole in the Playboy chip collector market, and the prices plummeted as people from Hernando filled five-gallon buckets with chips and began offering $25 and $100 chips on Ebay for a few dollars each.
 

ktran

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There are plenty of these chips still around. Some denominations are more rare than others. ($1s are hard to find, and I've never seen anything over a $500.) A couple of people on PCF have large sets.

The condition is iffy, at best. Most of the surviving chips are from "the dig," where the chips were buried from 1984 until 2009. Fewer Playboy chips were held by collectors after the casino closed and would be in excellent condition.

I own some, and would call their condition "good considering." They're pretty good, considering they were buried for 25 years. They're playable.

Before the 2009 discovery, prices for any chips that made it out of the casino, and away from the NJCCC's efforts to destroy the chips, were priced many times their face value. The discovery shot a giant hole in the Playboy chip collector market, and the prices plummeted as people from Hernando filled five-gallon buckets with chips and began offering $25 and $100 chips on Ebay for a few dollars each.
I guess it's good to buy now bc of the dip? Is this dip recent? Kind of want to make a card mold of these or some variation of the inlay or at least the color I guess. Maybe diamond mold would be more fitting. There was actually a dice variation on the $1 so dice might work if there's a mold for that.
 
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dennis63

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I guess it's good to buy now bc of the dip? Is this dip recent? Kind of want to make a card mold of these or some variation of the inlay or at least the color I guess. Maybe diamond mold would be more fitting. There was actually a dice variation on the $1 so dice might work if there's a mold for that.
So the Playboy chips were a type of chip called a "coin center." The center was a steel coin with the casino name, "Playboy" and "Atlantic City" and the denomination stamped into it. The coin was enclosed by a plastic ring that had the bunny head impression on it. Neither of those materials -- steel and plastic -- are known for breaking down much if you just bury it in the ground, so they're thankfully still around.

What I mean is that before the massive haul of chips was discovered, a Playboy chip would cost many times its face value. A $100 chip would be selling for $400 or $500, because it was one that was bought for $100 at the casino and saved by its owner since at least April, 1984, when the casino closed.

On April 15, 2009 -- coincidentally the 25th anniversary of the casino's closing -- a construction crew was digging at the former factory charged with destroying the chips. They pulled up a concrete slab and unexpectedly found thousands of the chips -- between 30,000 and 100,000, depending on whose estimate you accept.

People started selling the chips on Ebay for less than face value -- often $2 or $3 a chip. That week, and since then, you could buy a Playboy $100 chip on Ebay for much less than face value -- $2, $3 or $5 each. Prices fluctuate a bit, but that's the price drop to which I refer -- from a collector who would pay $400 or $500 for one chip, to being able to buy the chip for maybe $3.

And chip collectors who had paid multiples of face value for their Playboy chips got badly burned when this happened.

The company was called The Green Duck Co. It had been in that spot in Mississippi since 1975, and closed in 2004. They made bus tokens, which are basically custom steel coins. Some people think the Playboy used The Green Duck Co. to stamp the metal centers that Bud Jones used in the chips, though that has never been confirmed. It would explain why the casino managers returned the coins to the Green Duck Co., when they were ordered under New Jersey law to destroy the existing chips.

But instead of melting or cutting the chips into little pieces, the company apparently dug a hole about the size of a grave, dumped the chips in, covered the hole with a concrete slab, and covered the slab with dirt.

When the company closed in 2004, the building was abandoned. The county stepped in and turned it into a community center. And in 2009, they decided to expand the building. A construction crew tore up a driveway leading to the building, and hit the slab.

Curiosity or fear for what could be underneath took over, and they used a bulldozer to move the slab, uncovering the chips. A photo from that day, just after the slab was moved, shows what looks to be thousands of chips. Many would be instantly recognizable, even from a distance, as Playboy chips to anyone who played there.

Construction workers took some chips as souvenirs. Word spread, and soon a crowd came out to see the hole. People jumped in -- some with 5 gallon buckets, like a Hernando local named Mark Flagg. He loaded up a few buckets of $5s, $25s and $100s. He sold his chips -- 500 of which I bought myself -- in an Ebay store he opened that week. Lots of people made money from what they could grab that day.

The story made the local and national media, and the New Jersey Casino Control Commission said, officially, that they were "investigating." Nothing ever came of their investigation, and anyone who was involved in the murky events of 1984 that moved the chips from the Jersey shore to a hole in rural Mississippi were either dead or not talking.

Some also wonder if the discovery, falling on that specific day, twenty five years to the day after the casino closed, was really a coincidence, or an elaborate ruse to dig up something of value that someone knew about all along.

It's a great story. Even if your chips came from the dig, you can be certain that they were once on the tables at the Playboy, in the hands of the casino's rich, famous and beautiful clients, and spent a quarter century underground as literally "buried treasure."
 
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That’s an amazing collection, would love to have that as a centerpiece on my poker table …
Maybe someday !!! I have about 25 various chips now . Know anybody wanting to re home theirs?
 

dennis63

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They would talk about how you dress to impress or wouldnt get in, how you got pampered.
This is very true. My friends and I were seniors in high school. None of us looked like we were over 21, but we were wearing suits. We were polite. We talked like adults. My one friend was 6 feet 4 inches tall and had a beard, so that helped. I had a mustache and goatee, and a Playboy bunny even brought me a gin and tonic.They never checked IDs in those days. I'm sure the casino guys knew, but they let us have our fun.

Gambling in Atlantic City in the 1980s was still what we today would politely call "sketchy." (To put it bluntly, the casinos were shady as f#@k.) A 15-year-old in a nice suit could probably have gotten in to at least a slot machine if he was low-key enough, and losing. If he started winning, you can bet somebody would suddenly realize he's under age and kick him out. Stuff that really happened back then would never fly in a casino today.
 
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thanks Dennis, very nice read. I love my playboy chips. I was thinking about making a 2k plaque to go with my fun nite set, talked to Danny about it way back, but have yet to make it happen. Got into the cic chips late, still looking for more dollars, but I'm happy to get what I got.
 

jax1012

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View attachment 443134
The Playboy Hotel Casino as it appeared on a 1981 postcard.
Authors note: On Friday, April 17, 1981, I was a high school senior on Easter break and joined a group of friends on the drive from the Philadelphia area to Atlantic City, hoping to fake our way into a casino. Our group unknowingly arrived on the opening weekend of the Playboy Hotel Casino. This weekend marks an anniversary of that trip. From memory, and a little research, I offer the following. -- dennis63

A visit to the Playboy Hotel Casino, Atlantic City

As the sun set on Good Friday, 1981, the East Coast’s gambling faithful gathered below a new beacon on the Atlantic City skyline – a white rabbit symbolic of the Playboy empire, shining 22 stories above the street against the black glass background of the Playboy Hotel Casino.

In a time far removed from the political correctness of later decades, and not so far removed from the Silly 70s, the rabbit represented wealth and sophistication. Hugh Hefner, the public face of Playboy, built an empire around his magazine, carefully mixing high fashion, first-class fiction and cutting-edge interviews with glamorous models and artsy nude photo layouts. On this April night, Playboy Magazine boasted a monthly circulation of 7 million, with 35 Playboy clubs catering to nearly a million members from Chicago to Osaka. Once decried as pornography by the prim-and-proper society of the 1950s, the magazine had matured with the country. Playboy was now main-stream, fashionable and serious, but always with a wink.

As Hefner and his largely silent Las Vegas partners prepared to open Atlantic City’s seventh casino, there was no question what it would be called. Playboy’s game in Atlantic City would not be blackjack or craps, roulette or even the very-French Chemin de Fer, though it played them all. The game was to sell the exclusive club that was Playboy to a clientele eager for the thrill of the city’s finest casino. The world of Playboy Magazine, created in Hefner’s fantasies and brought to life through the lenses and airbrushes of his photographers, became a real place – a place average people could visit. And they did.

The building itself was a long, thin rectangle stretching along the boardwalk at Florida Avenue. Las Vegas architect Martin Stern, Jr., who built the MGM Grand, crafted Playboy into a black, futuristic tower, with a wide base and a thinner ascent, its top floors jutting outward on the ocean side. The dark glass coating the entire complex glistened with reflected sunlight during the day, and turned an elegant black with nightfall. On the north and south sides, the giant Playboy emblem, black with a white, bow-tied rabbit head, covered the top floors.

South of the main hotel was the Playboy’s massive, five-story theater and 1,000-seat Playboy cabaret, with twin footbridges spanning the courtyard two stories below.

The hotel featured four restaurants. The finest was the Chat Noir. Named for its 19th Century Parisian predecessor, it showcased world-class French cuisine served in a room fit for European royalty. There were three bars, a shopping arcade, and a members-only Playboy Key Club. Above, the 500 guest rooms and six VIP suites were the best in town.

Playboy spent months securing its casino license, and filled the gaming halls with 120 tables, 10 roulette wheels and 1,262 slot machines. It hired hundreds of trained dealers, pit bosses and supervisors, and developed systems to handle the flood of cash that would wash in like the tide. After four days of gambling with play money under the scrutiny by New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission, Playboy was qualified to trade its chips for the real thing. The casino was ready to open to the public.

The setting sun signaled this first weekend evening of play, and the rabbit cast its first wink on the city. Throngs of people streamed through the courtyard below the footbridges, now lit in gold. Eager for their first glimpse of Hefner’s creation, they would find an oasis of opulence and beauty in the center of a still-rough, still-urban Atlantic City. Playboy Enterprises and its partner, Elsinore Corporation, poured and astounding $159 million into its palace on the Jersey shore, the equivalent of more than a half billion dollars today, and it showed.

View attachment 443137 View attachment 443139
Two images from Playboy's 1981 article featuring their newest property in Atlantic City. The courtyard at
the main entrance, and David Wynne's sculpture, "The two swimmers." (Credit: Richard Fegley, Playboy.)

The courtyard became a promenade. Fashionably dressed new arrivals walked past a central fountain, where David Wynne’s sculpture The Two Swimmers depicted a man and woman in a swirling underwater pursuit of each other. In the lobby, the low, black ceiling glowed with hundreds of gold lights and opened into the giant atrium, revealing the three-story steel, brass and glass sculpture, Northern Lights, between two long escalators. A bank of elevators, with interior walls of mirrored gold, carried new players on a short ride to the first of three levels of casinos.

There, guests entered warmly lit salons draped in elegant dark colors with every detail meant to convey sophistication and wealth. There were high, paneled ceilings, ornate Persian rugs, and dark walls. The muted bells of the slot machines and the whir of the single-zero roulette wheel filled the air. A four-piece jazz band played riffs from inside “Hef’s” nightclub nearby. In a first for an American casino, massive picture windows provided panoramic views of the ocean.

Though it boasted over 50,000 square feet of gaming space, the building’s thin footprint meshed with Hefner’s plan to feature smaller, richly appointed gaming halls inspired by Europe’s most exclusive clubs. In a break from its Las Vegas cousins, the Playboy was not brimming with movie props to remind guests of a theme. They were brought into the world of the high-roller, and treated like one.

Hostesses clad in pink Playboy bunny costumes, complete with ears and tail, carried drinks to players. “Cigarette Bunnies” strolled through the crowd, while bunnies in black dealt at the tables. It wouldn’t be Playboy without the bunnies, and there were bunnies.

Drawn from the thousands of East Coast women who competed for the costumes, the winners entered the whirlwind finishing school that was “bunny training.” There, they would learn to live the “Bunny Manual,” the corporate rulebook on how to look, act and even stand, like a bunny. Each new bunny was between 18 and 23 years old -- the only qualification officially listed in Playboy’s recruiting ads. The ads always featured the photo of a glamorous bunny in the costume, showing off the other qualifications. Despite the public’s presumptions about the work, bunnies were forbidden to date, or even to mingle, with guests. Casual conversation was taboo, too, unless the bunny was promoting a Playboy product.

View attachment 443138
A roulette croupier in 1981. (Credit: Richard Fegley, Playboy.)

The bunnies were paid a pittance by the casino, and some didn’t bother to pick up their paychecks. They worked for tips, and often earned over $10,000 a year -- considerably more than other women at the time. Bunnies were forbidden to solicit tips, of course. The bunny costume -- a one-piece skin-tight swimsuit with a cotton tail, collar, cuff links and bunny ears -- did its part to ensure there would be tips. Nature did the rest.

As the bunnies moved through the crowd, tuxedo-clad dealers swept away countless $20-, $50- and $100-bills, doling out stacks of the club’s unique casino chips across the purple felt of the gaming tables. With each exchange, new players were offered a confident, “Good luck,” as play began.

No expense was spared, and even the chips were part of the finery. They were designer affairs -- the most expensive of their time -- crafted by casino industry legend Bernard “Bud” Jones. Large metal coins of mirror-polished steel were minted with the company name in its signature typeface, then set inside a composite ring of the chip‘s color -- dictated by New Jersey law. White, red and green chips represented one, five and twenty five dollars. The black $100s and purple $500s were rarer, used more often in the third-floor high-roller rooms. The rabbit was cast into each coin, and the rings, too, had tiny rabbit-shaped “edge spots.” At a hefty 12 grams each, the Playboy’s chips, like everything else at the casino, looked and felt expensive.

View attachment 443141 View attachment 443142
Photos of some Playboy Atlantic City Bud Jones chips, from the
author's own collection.

On this night, many of the casinos famous chips, or "cheques," as they're called in the industry, were in counting rooms, the secure distribution centers where chips were counted and locked into acrylic cases for their guarded trip to the tables. At the tables, players traded in paper money of every variety for stacks of the uniform giant coins. Winning players would carry their chips off to the cashier’s cage, while losing players saw their chips swept quickly off the tables.

When they returned to the counting rooms, at the end of play, black metal lockboxes of cash, collected at the tables, would travel with them. There, chips and cash were meticulously counted and the surplus was added to the casino’s daily “win.” The chips and money would then part ways, never to meet again. Sealed bank bags brimming with cash would travel through secure hallways and elevators under heavy guard to the casino’s massive vault, behind casino offices on the main floor. Their day's journey would end in metal cabinets along one wall of the vault -- cabinets that held the untold fortune that gave the chips their value.

In the secretive world of casino security, even the dealers and croupiers, who adeptly handled a fortune in chips each day, had no inkling of the total number in the building. Together, the tiny, colorful discs are thought to have numbered a quarter million -- a stack 10 times taller than the building itself. Like all casino chips, the Playboy’s chips were an artful illusion, made for easy counting and more secure than paper money, speeding the pace of play. They also helped conceal another secret of the casino industry: players risk, and lose, more with a replacement currency than with real money. And at any given time, the three bustling casino floors at the Playboy held millions of dollars in chips to be won or lost -- but mostly lost -- as they moved from casino to player and back again.

On the casino floors, the first-night gamblers traded the chips for the thrill of the wager. Wealthy businessmen brushed elbows with distracted, bunny-watching college kids. Men with New York accents sat riffling their chips at a blackjack table, while young couples as perfect as the magazine’s images gathered around, helping to create the scene, the illusion, that was this world. Word spread through the casino that Hugh Hefner, the personality behind the empire, was in the building, and would be making an appearance later that night.

In the course of the evening, stacks of chips would rise and vanish as the dealers and croupiers churned out the evening’s profits. In all casinos, the games give a slight edge to the house as players come and go, creating the industry’s only sure bet -- with each passing hour, the casino will be, ever so slightly, ahead.

But the odds were better at the Playboy than at any of the city’s other casinos, and there were winners. In the tradition of all casinos, the skilled and the lucky would push a chip or two forward and announce, “For the dealer,” before they “colored up,” trading their chips for higher values to carry off to the cashier’s cage. The unlucky shrugged away their losses as the cost of an evening out, ever certain that their luck would turn on their next visit.

To the players, the chips were the price of admission to this world, their stake in the surroundings, and their chance at fortune. For them, the evening was a brief, happy diversion. And like all good hosts, the Playboy crew of 3,000 pampered its guests like no other. They shared in the joy of the winners, for paying the winners brought new players to the tables, and another chance to win.

In the end, it was Playboy who took the biggest gamble. In January, 1982, an overzealous Casino Control Commission barred Hefner from the casino offices on thin charges. Elsinore would keep the name, but without Hefner to validate it, the casino would falter. Under Hefner, the casino saw a $9-million profit in 9 months. In 1982, without him and playing against a growing number of casino competitors, it lost more than $10 million.

By 1984, Playboy executives had disentangled their company from the venture. The bunnies were jetting off to clubs in other cities. The giant rabbit would be stripped from the building and Hefner’s former partners would scour every floor, expunge every Playboy symbol and obliterate every trace of the brand. To protect thousands of former Playboy workers who received the club’s signature chips as tips, the Casino Control Commission set aside a special fund from casino gaming tax revenues -- said to be a million dollars -- to pay the face value of any legally owned chip carried out of the casino -- a fund that still exists, largely untouched, today. To protect that fund -- and the value of chips outside the building -- the chips inside were unceremoniously pulled from the casino floors. Without the backing of a casino vault brimming with cash, the chips were deemed worthless and ordered destroyed. Casino executive who once spent fortunes to guard the chips inside their casino home now contracted with a faraway metal shop to destroy them.

In the spring of 1984, the chips were carted to the elevators and muscled through the first-floor supply rooms to a loading dock. There, while two casino accountants watched, they were pushed into the back of an unmarked tractor trailer. The cargo door slammed, casting the chips into darkness, and the truck crept north toward Artic Avenue. Barely four years removed from the glory of that first night, the last remaining tokens of the Playboy empire left Atlantic City on a thousand-mile ride to destruction. No one who was part of that day could know that the chips were to be played once more, in a game far into the future.

Even the building would vanish in a frenzy of wins and losses, of corporate buying and selling that moved faster than a round of Monopoly, the game fashioned after the city’s own streets. Twice sold and three times renamed, the black tower would fall to the wrecking ball in the year 2000. Today, the 14 acre plot at Florida and the Boardwalk is an empty lot.

In the end, Hefner’s oasis proved, like all great fantasies cast on the sand, to be a mirage.
Hello Dennis, I am new to this site and having a hard time figuring out how to message/email you directly. Could you please reach out to me, I have a few questions if you don't mind.
 

markleteenie

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Hello Dennis, I am new to this site and having a hard time figuring out how to message/email you directly. Could you please reach out to me, I have a few questions if you don't mind.
I believe there is a minimum number of “quality” posts you need to make before you can message people.
 
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