How Casino Dice Were Made
Ever wonder how casino dice were made when the Rat Pack was rolling the bones? This article provides the answers.
Back in the 1960’s a dice manufacturing company based in Las Vegas produced 10,000 pairs of dice a month. The entire process took eleven months to complete. The material used was cellulose nitrate, plastic material more commonly known by the original tradename - celluloid.
Celluloid is the same, highly flammable, material Hollywood used in films during the early years of tinsel town. Remember the scene in the Quentin Tarantino movie "Inglorious Bastards" where the Shosanna kills all the nazis by locking them in her theater while her partner starts a fire using rolls and rolls of film as an accelerant? Those rolls of film were made of Celluloid Nitrate. Celluloid Nitrate was chosen for dice because it was the heaviest and liveliest of all the thermal plastics. These properties also made it more likely to maintain excellent stability when properly cured. Celluloid Nitrate has the additional unfortunate drawback of crystalizing over time, making dice of this type almost uncollectable. Who wants a collection that WILL decay and become unrecognizable over time?
Sometime in the late 1970’s and early 80's modern casinos made the switch to a more stable chemical material called Cellulose Acetate. This miracle plastic is used in many common items today including glasses from and cheap jewelry. Dice made with this material should last almost indefinitely, if stored property. Also, they are not prone to catching on fire, which is nice.
Fifty years ago celluloid slabs 5 feet long, two feet wide and in each thick, in only two shades of red were the raw resource used by casino dice manufacturers. One of these slabs weighed about 60 pounds and it costs $4 (about $32 in 2022) a pound. A slab of this size produced about 750 pairs of finished dice.
These slabs were first sawed into inch square rods that were cured for several months. The square rods were then cut into cubes and placed in walking ovens for another four months. The oven’s starting temperature of 100 degrees and was progressively increased to 140 degrees. The semi-finished dyes were spot checked for durability at the end of the two months and if found to be unsatisfactorily cured the cubes were returned to the heat for another 30 days. After that, the seasoned cubes were stress tested by being subjected to a 200 degree hot liquid bath.
Upon passing the hot liquid durability test the next step was to drill the spots into the cubes with precision machines equipped with micrometer stops that accurately controlled the position and depth of each spot. Each spot was then hit with a high pressure air blast to remove dust or shavings in the holes filled with a white catalytic present compound which, when set, forms a permanent bond with a cube. The resin was applied with a special tipped hypodermic syringe. The resin used to fill the spots had to match the destiny of the Nitrate used to make the cube. This ensured that the die was perfectly balanced on all sided regardless of the number of holes filled. A final overnight trip to the oven was next for the filled cubes at a 140 degrees to set the resin.
To remove any excess spotting resin from the surface sanding belts were employed. This polishing had to be completed prior to the final diamond milling, which was done on specially designed pneumatic mills on which the dice were passed between high speed diamond tipped milling heads that trim the cubes down to within one ten thousandths of an inch of their final size.
Later the diamond cut dice were inspected under powerful magnification for internal flaws or foreign particles within the cube, for external surface flies, for specks of dirt in the spotting resin and for perfect alignment. Dice found to have had even the smallest imperfection were rejected.
Finally the dice were personalized for the individual casino by stamping the casino names and/or logos on certain sides of the dice. This is followed by a fine hand polish to add luster. They were then washed and dried by hand, individually calipered, and packed in special tamper proof boxes of five dice each for delivery to the casino and clubs.