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A Comparison of Chicago-Area Casinos - Part 5: Slots2 December 2003
Rating the best place in the Chicago area to play slots isn't like rating the best blackjack game or best craps tables. It's not as simple as seeing whether the blackjack dealer stands on soft 17 or whether the house takes a commission on losing buy bets.
There's no way to tell from looking at a slot machine whether we have a high-paying game or a coin gobbler, the way we can tell the good from the bad games by looking at video-poker pay tables.
In a tour of the eight casinos closest to Chicago, I looked at three criteria in rating the slots: Is there a wide variety of games? What are the coin denominations - do the games cater to low rollers or premium players? And how do the average payback percentages in any one casino compare with the others?
GAME VARIETY: You'll find a wider variety of games at the four Indiana casinos on my tour than you will at the four in Illinois. There are a couple of reasons. With Illinois casinos limited by law to 1,200 gaming positions, they're simply not as large as their Indiana competitors. On the Indiana side, Harrah's East Chicago and Horseshoe in Hammond each have 1,983 slots, Trump in Gary has 1,740 and Majestic Star in Gary has 1,540. Among Illinois casinos rated, Harrah's Joliet has the most slots with 1,140 - 400 fewer than the smallest number at any of the Indiana casinos and 853 fewer than the largest. Empress in Joliet and Hollywood in Aurora each have 1,133, and Grand Victoria in Elgin has 1,072.
Besides having more machines, Indiana operators have many games not seen in Illinois. The recent hike in the Illinois gaming tax sent casino operators scurrying to find ways to save money, and one way they found was to eliminate licensed games on which they must share revenue with manufacturers. Games such as Wheel of Fortune, Monopoly and The Price Is Right, standards in Indiana, are endangered species in Illinois.
Illinois video-slot players still can find fun games such as Off the Charts or Lucky Larry's Lobstermania, and reel slot spinners have Blazing 7s and Five Times Pay machines galore. But because some of slot manufacturers' most creative, entertaining games are revenue-sharing products, they're mostly confined to Indiana.
One other point. I often get notes from readers wanting to know where to find video keno games. Those also are confined to Indiana, primarily to Trump and Majestic Star.
SLOT DENOMINATIONS: When you walk into Grand Victoria, you know it's aiming for high-end slot play. There are $5 machines right inside the door, fewer nickel slots than anywhere else in the area, and a higher percentage of quarter machines are multicoin, multiline video slots than at other casinos. Even though it has the fewest slots in the area, Grand Victoria has 23 machines that take $10 tokens or higher. Horseshoe in Hammond is second with 22 such machines.
Conversely, a short walk through Majestic Star or Trump tells you that low-limit players are royalty at these casinos. Not only do both have a wide variety of nickel video games, but Trump has 80 2-cent slots and Majestic Star has 48 2-centers and eight penny games.
Low rollers will find games to play at Grand Vic, and big players will find $5-and-up games at Majestic Star, but each has its own target audience. So do all the other casinos in the area:
**Horseshoe, with 769 $1 slots and 120 $5 games, joins Grand Victoria (428 at $1, 87 at $5 in a much smaller casino) in targeting high-end players. Horseshoe also has 644 quarter slots, most in the area. Hollywood (385 at $1, 54 at $5) also tends toward the high end but has plenty of mid-level play.
**The two Harrah's casinos and Empress aim mid-market, with Harrah's perhaps a bit more upper-middle than Empress. Harrah's East Chicago tries to be all things to all people, and succeeds to some extent because it is so large - its 680 nickel games are most in the area, but it also ranks second to Horseshoe in both quarters (503) and dollars (563).
**Trump, with 711 2-cent and 5-cent games, has the most nickel-and-under games in the area. Majestic Star, with 623 at 1, 2 and 5 cents, has 40.5 percent of its games at 5 cents or less, second to Trump's 40.8 percent.
PAYBACK PERCENTAGES: The most recent figures I have, August for Indiana and July for Illinois, show Trump and Majestic Star with the highest paybacks for nickel players, each at 89.6 percent. None of the other area casinos reached 89 percent for the month.
Trump also leads on quarter games, with 93.5 percent. The two Joliet casinos also surpassed 93 percent, with Empress at 93.4 and Harrah's Joliet at 93.1. Trump was the exception among Indiana casinos - after Trump, the four Illinois casinos outdid the other three from Indiana.
Grand Victoria, targeting bigger players, was the only area casino to exceed 95 percent in dollar returns for the month, at 95.3 percent. Harrah's Joliet, Empress, Trump and Hollywood all exceeded 94 percent. So where's the best place to play slots? It depends on what you want.
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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