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A look at the Four Winds Casino

14 August 2007

A week before the Four Winds casino's Aug. 2 opening, I asked general manager Matt Harkness where he expected the customers to come from.

"We expect most will come within about a 50-mile radius" of the New Buffalo, Mich., site, he said, while also explaining he thinks the customer base will reach southwest Michigan, northwest Indiana and northeast Illinois.

That's a pretty broad geographic area, but then Four Winds is designed to be something that market hasn't seen before. Owned by the Pokagon band of Potawatomi Indians, Four Winds is a land-based, full-service resort in an area served by a collection of casinos on boats and barges in northwest Indiana and northeast Illinois.

It's virtually the same hour-long drive from Chicago as the Blue Chip casino in Michigan City, Ind., with Four Winds being just on the Michigan side of the Indiana border. Plenty of Chicagoans make that drive to Blue Chip, and no doubt many will want to check out Four Winds to see what it has.

On the amenity side, you can look for a hotel with 165 rooms and suites, elegant in granite, marble and wood. The six restaurants include the Copper Rock Steak House for aged steaks, Swimm for seafood, the Willowbrook Café for 24-hour dining, The Buffet, Timbers for deli sandwiches and fast food and Silver Creek Bistro, a coffee and sandwich shop featuring Starbucks coffee.

And parents looking to spend a little time on the gaming floor will note that Four Winds offers a KidsQuest child care center, the first of its kind in this market.

My real interest, of course, is in the games themselves, and I let Harkness describe what will be available.

"We'll have 3,000 slot machines and more than 100 table games," said Harkness, an Atlantic City veteran who has been at Four Winds through the planning stages starting last September. "That includes 19 World Poker Tour brand Poker Pro tables from PokerTek. Fifteen of those will be standard 10-seat tables, while four will be Heads Up."

For those not familiar with PokerTek's Poker Pro tables, they are electronic, with no dealer. Cards are dealt by a random number generator. To look at your face-down cards, you touch them on your screen, and the corners turn up. The Heads Up tables are for those who like a one-on-one game, something that would be too expensive for the casino to offer with a live dealer.

"We'll have another 84 standard table games," Harkness said. "Blackjack, craps, Bonus Craps, Three Card Poker, Rainbow Poker, pai-gow poker, Rapid Roulette, regular roulette and mini-baccarat."

Rapid Roulette, which made its entry into northwest Indiana earlier this year at Majestic Star casino in Gary, uses a live dealer spinning a regular roulette wheel. However, instead of reaching over each other to drop chips on a layout, each player has a touchscreen for wagering. Touch the screen to choose a wager amount, and touch the depiction of the layout to place the bet. Players can make their bets faster, the dealer doesn't have to spend time clearing the layout of chips or making payoffs, leaving a speedier game.

Four Winds also is going the electronic route with Vegas Star games, which use no dealer. They're video, multiplayer representations of table games. At the beginning, Four Winds plans to offer Vegas Star versions of roulette, baccarat and sic bo, with blackjack another possibility.

On the slot side, 3,000 machines gives Four Winds a lot of room for game selection.

"We'll have the newest product from everyone," Harkness said. "IGT, WMS, Bally --- every manufacturer. We'll have all their most popular machines.

"The largest percentage will be video slots, with a lot of low denomination games. That's the biggest growth area in slot machines. There will be plenty of standard reels, certainly, and many multi-denomination games. All are server ready, although server-based gaming will not be turned on yet."

The mix includes big, wide-area progressive jackpots not available in Illinois or Indiana.

"One of the benefits of being owned by the Pokagon band and being on sovereign land is that we'll be able to be part of the national Native American link. We can offer million-dollar jackpots."

And on a subject near and dear to my house edge-cutting heart, Harkness said "there will be a TON of video poker. Video poker players are going to be pleasantly surprised at both the product and the pay tables."

A pleasant surprise on video poker pay tables is something I'm always up for, so you can be sure I'll be relaying that information as soon as I get a look.

And if you want to check it out yourself, Harkness wants everyone to know just how easy it is to get to Four Winds.

"The property is located right at Exit 1 off Interstate 94," he said. "It's the first exit in Michigan, and our entrance is less than a quarter mile off the exit."

Recent Articles
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