The following article was posted by Jim on the old Prodigy Board on October 15th, 1998

On September 1st, 1948 the fourth hotel and casino opened on what was to become the famous Las Vegas "Strip".

If we look at the various research material available we as collectors cannot determine what were the first chips issued by the Thunderbird Hotel & Casino located in Las Vegas, Nevada. One fact that I can tell you for sure is the first chips issued did not have the "Thunderbird" design on them. How do I know this?

I conducted an interview with Mr. Gene Badame who is a Las Vegas dealer in antiques and collectables. Well so are a lot of other people. What makes Gene so special? Well his father-in-law Loyde Lowe was the chief engineer on the construction of the original Thunderbird Hotel & Casino in 1948. According to Gene, at the time Cliff Jones and Marion Hicks opened the Thunderbird no design existed for an outside neon sign nor was there any "bird" on the first casino chips put in play. The "bird" as we have come to know it did not come until later.

In the very early part of 1949 Loyde Lowe and Joe Wells, who later would be named on a host chip, went to Arizona in search of the Navajo legend "The Sacred Bearer of Happiness Unlimited" - The Thunderbird. While in Arizona, they copied the motif from Navajo totem poles. When they came back to Nevada they designed the "bird" logo and had the outdoor Thunderbird sign built. In addition, they had the newly designed bird made from wood and placed on top of the previously built roosting poles that stood near the building. Finally, the Navajo "God" was in place!

The original plans for the construction of the hotel and casino as well as the design for the "bird" are still in existence. Gene did not know exactly where the plans were kept but he would make an attempt to find them. It has been alleged there were many "silent" owners of the Thunderbird Hotel and Casino. Joe Wells being one of these owners. The allegations and finger pointing had gotten so bad that by 1964 Del Webb stepped in and purchased the Thunderbird Hotel and Casino after a series of articles appeared in the Las Vegas Sun making allegations the Thunderbird was "mob" controlled. Was it? I don't know for sure and no one else does either. Some claim Meyer Lansky owned it, but no proof has ever surfaced.

In 1972 Caesars World (formerly Lums in California) purchased the Thunderbird. The Perlman brothers had entered into a sale agreement that featured loans of a creative nature. Not wanting to hold this property any longer for what many believe would have been bad public relations, the Perlmans sold it to Major Riddle in 1977. Major Riddle did a quick remodel, salvaging Las Vegas landmarks like Joe's Oyster Bar, and renaming the hotel and casino the Silverbird. However, even opening night lounge stars like the "Checkmates" could not keep the Silverbird afloat. Finally Ed Torres purchased the Silverbird in 1981. He did a very minor remodel which consisted of a new front and renamed the Silverbird the El Rancho. By 1992 the El Rancho was in financial collapse. The doors were closed for good ending a very interesting and historical trail of "houses". So you see the first chips issued by the Thunderbird could not have had a bird design on them. The bird did not come about until 1949.

What then did the chips look like? I don't know. One thing I am pretty sure of is that they were hot stamped. My guess is based upon the 2nd series of chips that featured the bird with it's wings down that were manufactured with a hot stamp. What mold do you think was used on the first series of chips? Small key - like the roulettes. I do not believe the management of the Thunderbird would have had chips of a different mold on the tables opening night. I believe the Chip Rack lists the small key roulettes as the 1950's - I believe it is the late 1940's like 1948. Of course, what mold the first series of chips and roulettes were is merely my guess. However, my guess is based upon all the facts of what actually happened from late 1948 to early 1949 as told to me by Gene Badame. Combine what Gene told me with my own knowledge and the result is this article I am pleased to bring to you. I hope you enjoyed it!!!