How do we sanitize casino chips in a safe and timely manner?

By Bill Zender

Every casino has a COVID-19 procedure for sanitizing casino chips in a timely manner, but do they really follow this procedure?  Earlier this year, when Macau casinos reopened after being closed for two weeks, their accepted procedure for sanitizing casino chips was to clean each chip with sanitizer as the chips were lost by the customer.  This was quite time consuming and the table games were ground down to a limited number of hand decisions per hour.  When North American casinos reopened, many opted to clean chips in the chip racks once per dealer down, then switched to cleaning them once per shift.  Regardless how often it was scheduled to occur, casinos quickly found out that hand cleaning casino chips was all but impossible to do in a reasonable amount of time, not to mention the additional cost.

Personally, I do not believe that many reopened casinos are doing an adequate job of cleaning and sanitizing casino chips.  Most casino reopening procedures I have reviewed mention that they intend to clean the chips but fail to explain the exact process in their reopening procedures.  Regardless, of what degree casinos clean their chips, I do not view this as a huge risk to every one’s health and safety.  CDC has released a statement that the risk of receiving enough infectious particles from a surface to give someone COVID-19 is extremely low https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cdc-coronavirus-doesnt-spread-easily-on-surfaces-transmission-before-symptoms/.  Even though the risk of getting infected by handling casino chips is extremely low, all casino need to make a honest attempt at cleaning and sanitizing the casino chips, just as they presently do with sanitizing table surfaces, and other physical areas that can be touched by casino customers.

Following are the different possibilities for sanitizing casino chips in compliance with most health department and regulatory requirements.

Hand wash with soap and water or sanitizer

Since the COVID-19 virus is not a living entity (viruses never are), it cannot be killed in the normal sense; it must be dissolved and destroyed.  From the material I have been reading, the COVID virus consists of a protein surrounded by a fatty molecule. To destroy the virus, the fatty molecule must be dissolved first.  Therefore, hot water and soap seem to be one of the best agents for fighting the spread of the virus.  In addition, other cleaning solutions must contain at least 65% alcohol to destroy the virus.  Most sanitizers are ineffective since they do not contain a large enough percentage of alcohol per volume to do the trick.  Sanitizers using methanol as their active sanitizing agent are detrimental to one’s health if used even over a short period of time.  The problem with hand washing chips is time.  Sanitizing a large amount of chips will require excessive numbers of workers over a long period of time to accomplish this task successfully.  In most situations, it is all but impossible to accomplish with any type of efficiency or acceptability.

Casino Chip sanitizing machines

There are several companies that sell or lease chip cleaning machines to casinos and cardrooms in North America.  These machines utilize a sanitizing solution, or UV-C lighting (see section on “Using UV light source”), and one company claims to clean and sanitize chips through Ultrasonics sound waves.  I have not evaluated any of these processes, however I would imagine they basically accomplish cleaning and sanitizing chips.  Like anything else that uses technology to accomplish a task, there is a substantial cost involved.  I have included several of the weblinks to the different product providers for your review.

https://www.diamondcasinoproducts.com/CleaningSystems.html

Using UV-C light source

Another method for sanitizing surfaces and/or gaming equipment would be to expose the surfaces/equipment to Ultraviolet light waves. Articles have indicated that the COVID-19 virus can be destroyed using artificial Ultraviolet lighting (known as UV-C light sources) that produce a light wave in the range of 200 to 280 nanometers. A study shows that the use of a UV-C light source will result in a 99% reduction in Coronavirus after 45 minutes; 15 minutes if the light source is within 10 feet of the surface or chip.  While surfaces like tabletops can be easily sanitized using soap and water, UV-C might be a practical alternative for disinfecting gambling chips, currency, dice, pai gow tiles, and playing cards. From what I understand, UV-C is presently being used to sanitize surgical masks at hospitals where the masks are in short supply https://www.cnet.com/health/can-uv-light-protect-you-from-covid-19/.

The problem with UV-C light is that it is a light spectrum that is not emitted from a natural source such as the Sun, and it is extremely harmful to the unprotected human eye, or skin when exposed for a short length of time.  One needs to be careful with how it is used, preferably in an enclosed shelf or box container.  In addition, any surface that is not exposed to the direct light source will not be sanitized.  If one were to place racks of chips in a UV-C lighted container, only the surfaces that received light would be affected; any surface remaining in the “shade” would not.  For additional information please refer to the following weblink:
https://abcnews.go.com/US/ultraviolet-light-zap-coronavirus-york-city-subways-buses/story?id=70770382.

Using Heat to sanitize 

What about using heat?  I am not talking about warm summer days; I am talking about temperature-controlled heat in an enclosed environment.  Last April I heard about a police department in Maryland who was able to remotely control the heating element in their squad cars, drove the temperature inside their cars to approximately 135 degree for 15 minutes.  By attaining that temperature, they were able to dissolve the Corona Virus and sanitize the interior of their squad card.  It turns out that research done by Ohio State University’s Engineering department found that sustained heat of 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes would reduce concentrations of the virus by 99% (please refer to this website link: https://www.foxnews.com/auto/fords-cop-cars-can-now-neutralize-coronavirus-with-extreme-heat).

Fortunately, you do not need a patrol car to sanitize casino chips and playing cards.  Household appliances like cloth dryers and dishwashers would both work well.  A standard household dryer operates at a temperature in excess of 135 degrees while the final rinse cycle of a dishwasher reaches 160 degrees (please refer to the following weblink for more information https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/this-is-the-temperature-that-kills-coronavirus/ar-BB14CyVm).It might be of some consideration for management to convert office space into a “hot room”.  Personal could place racks of casino chips onto metal carts, roll them into the “hot room”, turn the heat up to 135 degrees for 15 minutes.  Once the sanitizing period is completed, cool the room down to a reasonable temperature, and remove the carts (does your resort have a dry sauna?).  Depending on the size of the room and the amount of chips need to be sanitized, it would not take much time to sanitize the needed amount of casino chips.  This could be done effectively and efficiently several times a day if necessary.