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A Comparison of Chicago-Area Casinos - Part 3: Other Table Games18 November 2003
The comparison shopping among Chicago area blackjack games I wrote about last week was a relatively easy process--house rules at Harrah's and Empress in Joliet and Trump in Gary yield relatively low house edges, those at Grand Victoria in Elgin and Hollywood in Aurora yield high house edges, and the rest fall in between.
Comparing other table games is much more a matter of splitting hairs. There's much less variation in the house advantage than in blackjack. Double-zero roulette is double-zero roulette, and mini-baccarat is mini-baccarat, no matter where you play them.
Determining which casino has the best table offerings other than blackjack requires weighing several things. The final answer will depend as much on player preferences as the quality of the games themselves.
**What games are offered? You'll find much more variety in Indiana than in Illinois. That's been the case practically since casinos came to northwest Indiana in 1996, largely because they have more floor space to work with than Illinois competitors who are limited by law to 1,200 gaming positions. The gap has grown with the recent gaming tax hike that has led Illinois operators to cut back on games for which they must pay licensing fees.
Every Chicago area casino offers craps, roulette and Caribbean Stud. On the Illinois side, Grand Victoria has baccarat while Harrah's and Empress have mini-baccarat. Three Card Poker hangs on at Harrah's, Empress and Hollywood, and Hollywood also has a poker room with Texas Hold-'em and Omaha.
There's much more variety in Indiana, where everyone not only has either baccarat or mini-baccarat and Three Card Poker in addition to craps, roulette and Caribbean Stud, but a number of games not found in Illinois are common. Trump and Majestic Star in Gary, Horseshoe in Hammond and Harrah's in East Chicago all offer pai-gow poker, with some tables having side bets and bonuses in Fortune Pai-Gow and Pai-Gow Mania. All also have Caribbean Draw, which has a lower house edge than Caribbean Stud and also plays a little slower, meaning fewer hands per hour for the house edge to work against your bankroll. Majestic Star and Harrah's have Let It Ride, Harrah's has a 15-table poker room, and Majestic Star even has a Big Six wheel--not that having that high-house-edge game is necessarily a good thing.
Harrah's, Majestic Star and Trump also offer Spanish 21, a twist on blackjack that offers players all kinds of options and bonuses.
Be wary, however. The house edge on Spanish 21 is a bit higher than that on regular blackjack, and it takes quite a lot of basic strategy adjustment to get the most out of the game.
All four northwest Indiana casinos closest to Chicago have shown a willingness to experiment with new tables games. Trump was one of the first casinos in the country to offer Bonus 6 Stud Poker, as was Majestic Star with Boston 5. Majestic Star has 21 + 3, which adds a Three Card Poker side bet onto basic blackjack. And Horseshoe gave Play Four Poker its national debut.
If you're going to stick to old casino favorites, then any Chicago area casino on either side of the state line will take care of you. But those who want to try the latest and greatest will find much more variety in Indiana.
**What are the table maximums and minimums? High rollers looking for casinos that will take the big action will find that Horseshoe doesn't bat an eye at $10,000 a hand action. But most of us are looking for tables that will accommodate low- to mid-level play.
If you want to play for $25 a hand, any local casino will take care of you. But if you're looking for lower minimums, the lowest in the area are at Trump and Majestic Star. Both have table games with $5 minimum bets. Trump even puts $5 minimums on all table games on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. You'll find $5 minimums elsewhere on some select games--the Spanish 21 tables at Harrah's East Chicago, for example--but basically, outside Gary it's a $10-and-up world.
**Are there any house rules that make a difference? You'll encounter minor variations in pay tables on the Caribbean Stud progressive bet, but basically house edges on most table games are the same all over.
Aside from blackjack, the game in which house rules make the most difference is craps. A few years ago, when we were worrying about double odds vs. 3x, 4x, 5x odds, free odds were a major consideration. Now all casinos allow you to back your pass/don't pass and come/don't come bets with enough odds that only exceptionally well-bankrolled players are taking all available odds.
There is one craps rule in this market that makes a difference to average players. At Horseshoe, when you buy a number, the house collects a commission only if you win, while other casinos in the area collect a 5 percent commission, win or lose.
So which casino is tops in table games? Start in Indiana because of variety. Beyond that, it depends on what you want, with Trump and Majestic Star's low minimums, Horseshoe's craps rules and Harrah's East Chicago's poker room all being potential deciding factors.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
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