The Vineyard Casino : History and Info (1 Viewer)


4 of a Kind
Apr 13, 2015
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Minneapolis, MN
The Vineyard Casino was opened in March1996 by the company Sun America (aka Maritime Gaming) in the town of Fowler CA, a raisin-growing community approximately 7 miles south of Fresno CA. Unlike nearby Indian casinos, the Vineyard Casino was only a card room, and due to state gaming regulations they were unable to offer slot machines or blackjack tables. Only 10 months after opening, the casino was shut down in Jan1997 by the state attorney general due to mounting unpaid debts. Players and employees were kicked out of the $15.5MM casino building by sheriff’s deputies and security guards in the afternoon, leaving the building empty and the barely-used chips abandoned for nearly 7 years. In December2003, the 48,000 square foot casino building and gaming assets were purchased for $2MM by The Vineyard Worship Center, who subsequently sold the chips at auction around 2005. Today, the building at 2830 E Manning Avenue has been transformed into a church.
Vineyard Casino Church.jpg

The Ace Poker Chip Company is believed to have purchased the Vineyard chips at auction, selling them for initial prices of roughly $1.70 per chip. Supposedly, 300,000 chips were ordered from Paulson Gaming Supplies, but only around 150,000 chips were listed as part of the seized casino inventory. The Vineyard chips feature California card room colors, and encompass a wide range of cash denominations. In addition, the casino also had No Cash Value (NCV) chips available.
Vineyard Chipset with NCV.JPG

Fairly little is known about the NCV chips, except that there were 9,721 at the time of seizure. The NCVs do not have any Vineyard casino designation, and can only be identified by comparing the chips to pictures. The exact breakdown of the NCV values is not known.

For the cash chips, quite a lot is known about the 141,211 chips that were seized. The published counts from the original chip owner for each cash denomination are as follows, with the relative rarity provided in parentheses:
  • $0.50 = 3,597 total (2.5%)
    • The Primary chip has a larger font gold foil hot stamp, and represents the majority of this denomination.
    • The Secondary chip has a smaller font gold foil hot stamp and is the second rarest Vineyard chip, as only approximately 500-800 total chips were manufactured (i.e., 0.5% of all chips). Generally speaking, the Secondary chip hot stamps are in much better shape than the Primary ones.
  • $1 = 43,133 (30%)
  • $2 = 14,736 (10%)
  • $3 = 11,783 (8%)
  • $5 = 33,388 (24%)
  • $10 = 2,025 (1%)
  • $20 = 13,338 (10%)
  • $25 = 4,485 (3%)
  • $100 = 14,526 (10%)
    • Primary = 9,566 chips. Most common $100, sometimes called “4-spot”.
    • Secondary = 4.960 chips. Twice as rare $100 chip, sometimes called “8-spot”
  • $500 = 200?? (0.1%)
    • My personal estimate is that there are 200-500 chips in the wild. The original claim was n=100, but I've seen that many available in just one offering.
Vineyard 500 rack.jpg

The colors of the Vineyard cash chips, large number of denominations, mold varieties, chip sizes, spot patterns, and very limited use make them highly sought-after. As this post is intended to provide a comprehensive summary of all that I know about the Vineyard chips, the following table and pictures document the chip sizes, Paulson molds, edge spot patterns, and colors for the entire cash set. Note that all chips use the Paulson Giant Inlay.

For purposes of completeness, the cash set security features are also provided under UV lighting and high magnification. Credit for the UV pictures goes to unknown internet photographer, as I haven’t taken my own UV pictures yet.
Vineyard UV 1.jpg Vineyard UV 2.jpg Vineyard UV 3.jpg Vineyard UV 5.jpg Vineyard UV 10.jpg Vineyard UV 20.jpg Vineyard UV 25.jpg Vineyard UV 100.jpg Vineyard UV 500.jpg

Credit for these extreme close-ups of the Metal Flake in the $20 chip and the $100 microdot go to PCFer @DrJohn :
Vineyard 20 Metal Flake.jpg Vineyard 100 MicroDot Larger.jpg
Vineyard 100 MicroDot zoomed.jpg

Unconfirmed rumors exist regarding four racks of $0.25 chips, as well as a third version of the $0.50 chip that includes UV color differences in the clay. I haven’t personally seen any quarters, or bothered to look at my racks of fracs for any UV coloration differences, so for now these are just rumors. Note that the Vineyard casino has been commemorated in both a Blue Chip Company (BCC) 2005 clay Commemorative set, as well as a Chipco ceramic replica.

As a conclusion to this lengthy entry (and in celebration of finally "completing" my set), I’ve decided to offer a limited number of Vineyard sample sets to PCF members for $110 shipped CONUS (or potentially delivered to a PCF meet-up near you), paid via PP F&F. The set includes 11 chips: $0.50 primary, $0.50 secondary, $1, $2, $3, $5, $10, $20, $25, $100 primary, $100 secondary; and will be cherry-picked from my collection. I ask that folks please don’t flip them on eBay for profit. The most-expensive $10 and $25 chips are in minty condition, and the others will be the best I have--and I have a quite a few. I’m trying to spread a bit of my passion to this community, not maximize dollars. I will be taking orders until the end of May or until the sets are all sold, and will then ship everything out. The sample sets include both versions of the $0.50 chip and both versions of $100 chip, but they do NOT include the $500 chip. I only have one $500 of my own that I got from a chip friend, and it’s not going anywhere. Drop me a PM if you are interested in a small piece of chip history.

I do have a few other extra Vineyard chips that aren’t getting enough use in my games, and that might need a new home. I’m still debating if I want to part with any, but for now I plan to stick with the sample sets and see how I’m feeling. If you have other Vineyard wants, it doesn’t hurt to let me know. Happy chipping everyone!

UPDATE 8/16/20
I have new Vineyard info that fills in some of the missing pieces of the puzzle. This comes directly from my conversation last night with the guy who originally acquired the chips from the casino. He actually found this thread and reached out to me on PCF to clean up some details.

Our chipping hero, whom we will call Greg, lived just north of the casino in Fresno, CA. He'd driven past it dozens of times on the way to his local poker game, and never really gave the card room or its closing much thought. At the time, Greg worked for a local security company. One day in 2004, his general manager reached out to him about going to see a safe and some stuff at a closed casino. The GM knew that Greg was a poker guy, and thought he might be helpful. Greg obliged, and was soon standing in the closed casino with piles of tables, and a literal treasure trove of chips! Greg was knowledgeable enough to recognize that the massive amount of chips were all high quality Paulsons. Trying to stay somewhat composed, his recollection of what came next went something like this:
Hero: Are you interested in selling the chips?
Pastor: Yes, I need to get rid of all this stuff. How many trays would you like?
Hero: I'm interested in all of them, all the chips.
Pastor: Really?
Hero: Yes, what would you need for everything?
Pastor: I need a bus.
Hero: (waiting, mentally picturing a brand new luxury liner full of new church-goers, and trying to do some math in his head)
Pastor: ... about $5k.
Hero: (trying not to lose his shit) $5k? Yeah, I think I can pull that together.
Pastor: Sounds good to me, I'll just keep one tray of chips to remember this. I'm not entirely comfortable selling casino stuff, so while it might be worth more, I'm just glad to have it done.
Yes, 140,000 chips for $5,000. 3.5 pennies per chip. Wow, just wow.

Greg rushed home and pulled together the funds, driving back in his half-ton Toyota pickup to close the deal. Money changed hands, and the first loading began. Our hero recognized that he was going to need to recruit some help when his truck bed starts to sag too much from the weight, and he's tired and no where close to being done. After recruiting several friends with trucks, they form a convoy to get the chips back home.

Now before we get too far along, let's talk about that rack the pastor wanted to keep. Of course, that was the only rack of $500 chips. Ugh. Smartly electing not to press the issue at time time, Greg was contacted about a year later about buying that rack, plus the contents of a smaller unopened safe. This time the pastor was a bit more shrewd, asking another $5k for the one rack and the mystery safe. Greg obliged. The pic of the $500 rack was taken on a purple blanket that Greg still has. The safe had some chips too, so it was another good deal. Greg sold the $500s one at a time for many years.

Greg started selling the chips to his poker friends and associates. One guy up in LA started buying ~$3k batches of chips. We think that guy might have been running Ace Poker Chips, one of the main public sellers with an original distribution price of $1.70 per chip. Greg recalls selling several batches of ~$3k to the LA guy for around $1.50 per chip. Note that the pastor did sell some racks to others before unloading them all to Greg, but the counts above feel right.

For @HaRDHouSeiNC : While the previously posted numbers of NCV chips was close to 10k, Greg thinks there were a lot fewer of those. He remembers selling the NCVs off for cheap, as there was nothing Vineyard on them and they were in much worse condition. I'm still talking to Greg to try and get a set of the NCVs for my personal enjoyment. Time will tell.

I'm really excited to be able to share the details of this epic casino score with all my fellow chipping nuts. It's pretty amazing to be able to finally tell the full story 15+ years later.
Vineyard Mine.jpeg
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always loved vineyards...I sold off my set before i really had a chance to appreciate them. Miss them dearly

I have a $500 laying around somewhere. I haven't been able to find it since I moved. If I do find it i'll let you know
Great post

When I make it to a game sometime I'll definitely want to see in person.

Beautiful :)

My best Jeff
Thanks, for the info! I've always loved these chips, and now deeply regret not putting together a set, when I had the chance. I have a handful of the upper denoms, and would at least try to put together a full sample set someday.
Very cool, nice work on the documentation!
Great Job Forrest! This was a great history of some nice chips. I do not have one Vineyard chip but have always enjoyed seeing your pics! Glad to see the sample set put to good use.

David O
The fun of meetups is playing with the great sets. A highlight of the last WINDY CITY for sure
Couple of items of clarification. The casino/cardroom was not initially owned by SunAmerica. A group of investors from Los Angeles and the Central Valley created a company called Maritime Gaming, LP to act as the gaming operator and Manning Real Estate Partners, LLC to own the real estate. That group developed the facility, received the gaming license from the City of Fowler and State of California and opened the cardroom in March 1996. SunAmerica (an insurance company, now part of AIG) provided the financing for the construction of the building circa 1995-96. When the cardroom fell behind on its lease/debt payments after opening, SunAmerica foreclosed and took possession of the building but, as a public company, couldn't operate the cardroom (a quirk of California law). The cardroom closed for operations in January 1997 and sat dormant for six years. SunAmerica sold the facility in December 2003 to a local church at about an $18 million loss a few months after a guy named Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker setting off a 5-year poker boom...
Sitting here shuffling a stack of the Vineyard $5's, wishing I had a full set...
Absolutely amazing post!!!! @Ben8257 loves this set!!!! Those .50 are absolute perfection!!!! I know how much he aspires to one day own a set of these beauties!!!!

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