US Coins

Gaming token mule for Vietnam War era military base a rare find

A new die pairing has been discovered for a 1968 gaming token used in slot machines by U.S. servicepeople during the Vietnam War. 

The die type combines imagery associated with the 8th Field Hospital and the 101st Airborne Division, an accidental pairing that was the result of a mistake at the SEGA minting facility. The token, found by Kevin Maloy and identified by Ray Bows, a retired Army officer who served in Vietnam, is the only one known.

The tokens in question are often referred to by numismatists simply as “military tokens” or “military slot machine tokens”; members of the military called them “slugs.”

When not in the field or engaged in a wide array of logistical and organizational tasks, soldiers on bases during the Vietnam War could engage in many kinds of recreation; tokens associated with specific kinds of recreation have proven popular collectibles. Slot machines and other gaming machines were one of the more common forms of entertainment, and a number of different types and designs of tokens were in use to operate the games. A major producer of service game machines and tokens for base recreational areas was SEGA, producer of popular electric and arcade games and associated tokens in the 1960s.

Tokens for use in SEGA and other machines on military facilities bore the insignia of the base or a specific unit to which the tokens were issued. Minted in Japan, SEGA tokens used during the Vietnam War were ordered by club custodians, enlisted people trained in food service, who interfaced with SEGA sales staff. The number of tokens ordered was based on the number of slot machines in a club. Tokens for larger clubs are thus more common than those for smaller ones. Common “slugs” are worth a few dollars, at best; rare ones can be worth upwards of $100. According to Ray Bows, Maloy’s token could be worth hundreds.

Different designs were ordered for every club to prevent tokens from being taken from the club to which they were issued. Jackpots would be paid out only to winners who used the tokens associated with the club; interestingly, the slot machine tokens could also be used in pinball machines and jukeboxes. Though such use of the tokens was prohibited, the rules were not stringently enforced. 

Once an order was placed, SEGA would produce the tokens at a facility outside Tokyo and deliver them to the base. More than 2,000 different styles of tokens were minted between 1962 and 1971.

All of those orders and the demand for the gaming tokens on bases result in a broad array of different tokens remaining, for exonumists to collect. Most varieties used in the gaming machines at military facilities have been cataloged. Typically, tokens are struck with consistent imagery or text associated with either a particular facility or unit, not both.

The new die marriage combines an obverse from 8th Field Hospital and the reverse of 101st Airborne Division. The 8th Field Hospital was a large medical facility in Nha Trang that had a number of gaming machines. Its name appears around the “25c” denomination. A SEGA logo appears beneath the denomination, with NCO CLUB. The regular 8th Field Hospital tokens had identical obverses and reverses.

The 101st Airborne is a light infantry unit with a long history. In Vietnam, it was an airmobile unit, utilizing helicopters and air vehicles to engage hostile forces. “101” appears on the new token combination, above a small SEGA logo. On regular 101st Airborne tokens, the text on the other side reads 101ST AB. DIV NCO/EM CLUB.

The dies associated with token mule were both ordered in 1968 by personnel at the 8th Field Hospital and the 101st Airborne, a specialist named Herbert Hayden and sergeant named Ira Strack, respectively. The two purchase orders, 14123 and 14300, were filed in February of 1968 with Tony Furio, a representative of SEGA serving as a salesman in the Hue/Phu Bai/Camp Eagle area.

It is thought that the mule occurred as the result of a mistake at the minting facility at Tokyo. Likely caught early in the process, Maloy’s token is the only one of this specific mule known to exist, and if any others do, their number is extremely limited.

This new mule is among the rarest of the Vietnam-era club gaming tokens. 

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