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A Comparison of Chicago-Area Casinos - Part 6: Video Poker

9 December 2003

For most of the past few weeks, I've been reporting on a tour of Chicago-area casinos, giving my picks for the best hotels, dining, blackjack, other table games and slot machines.

Before moving on to a series of columns on new developments in gaming from the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, let's wrap up the tour with a look at the area's best video poker.

Cards in video poker are dealt from a randomly shuffled electronic deck, so we can calculate odds and strategies. A look at the pay table will tell us which is the higher-paying game in the long run - although, as in any game of chance, we'll sometimes win in a short session on a bad machine and lose on a good one.

In touring the eight casinos closest to Chicago, I kept an eye out for the best deals for players at different denominations. Keep in mind that the numbers before some games refer to payoffs on full houses and flushes - 9-6 Jacks or Better pays 9-for-1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes.

No surprise: The best games around for nickel and quarter players remain at Majestic Star in Gary, while Empress in Joliet rates a slight edge on Majestic Star for dollar players. Before we check out specifics on the two leaders, let's look at video poker around the area:

**Trump in Gary has a couple of 25-cent Triple Play Poker machines with 9-6 Jacks or Better (99.5 percent return with expert play) and "Not So Ugly" Deuces Wild (99.7 percent). Other games are a mixed bag. There's good variety, with Austin Powers Poker and Aces and Faces, along with more nickel video poker than at other area casinos. However, most have reduced pay tables, and some of the nickel games have high maximum bets. Ten Play Poker, for example, takes a 300-coin maximum bet instead of the standard 50.

**Horseshoe in Hammond used to have pretty good games for dollar players on the entry level with its Multi-Poker machines with progressive jackpots on royal flushes. Those machines have been replaced with new Game King units. The progressive jackpots remain, but the pay tables have been reduced.

**A few years ago, Grand Victoria in Elgin was a favorite for 9-6 Jacks or Better players at dollar level on up. The old single-game units were replaced about two years ago with multigame machines that reduced the Jacks or Better pay table to 8-for-1 on full houses and 5-for-1 on flushes (97.3 percent with expert play).

**The two Harrah's properties are hit and miss - mostly miss for players on a budget. Harrah's Joliet is pretty good for high-end players with dollar Triple Play/Five Play machines that include 9-6 Jacks or Better and "Not So Ugly" Deuces. Pay tables are knocked down a level on dollar single-hand machines and on the quarter Triple Plays. Harrah's East Chicago, meanwhile, basically doesn't compete for video poker play. Overall, pay tables there are the lowest in the area.

**Hollywood doesn't rank with the top two, but there are some decent games. Quarter multiple-hand machines have mid-level pay tables, dollar single-hand players can find 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker (98.9 percent with expert play) and quarter players can find Multi Strike Poker games with 9-5 Jacks or Better (98.4), 8-6 Bonus Poker Deluxe (98.5), 8-5 Super Double Bonus (98.6) and other solid mid-level games.

**That leaves the video poker players' Big Two - Majestic Star and Empress.

Majestic Star has a solid collection of good games for nickel players on up. There's 9-6 Jacks or Better on nickel, quarter and dollar games - multiple-hand games for nickel players, and single-hand Game Kings for quarters and dollars. The Game Kings also have 9-7 Double Bonus Poker and other high-paying games. Quarter players also can find 9-6 Bonus Poker Deluxe (99.6 percent) and 8-5 Bonus Poker (99.2) on some machines. The high-payers, along with "Not So Ugly" Deuces, are on a higher percentage of dollar Game Kings.

Empress can't match the quarter games but has the 99-percenters on its dollar Game Kings, along with 8-5 ACES Bonus Poker (99.3) - 8-5 Bonus Poker with an added $4,000 jackpot with four Aces in a specific order. Empress also has 9-6 Jacks or Better and "Not So Ugly" Deuces on dollar Triple Play/Five Plays and a bank of dollar single-hand 9-7 Double Bonus machines with a progressive jackpot. Empress' Multi Strike Pokers are multidenominational. Dollar players get 99-percent-plus games, including 9-6 Jacks or Better.

There are enough extras here that Empress strikes me as the best dollar video poker house in town, but at lower denominations, Majestic Star is king.

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Articles in this Series
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski