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A Shuffle through the Gaming Mailbag

3 February 2004

Q. I can tell by walking around Empress and Harrah's in Joliet that there are fewer people playing there since they started charging admission. Have the Indiana boats had an increase?

B.D., via e-mail

A. Yes, business has increased at Indiana casinos in the Chicago area, although not by as much as the dropoff in Illinois. The most recent figures I have are from October. Of the four Illinois casinos closest to Chicago, the only one that did not show a steep drop from the same month a year ago was Grand Victoria in Elgin, which does not charge admission. This October, Grand Victoria took in $32.4 million in gaming revenue on 234,000 admissions, compared with $32.1 million on 226,000 admissions in October 2002.

Harrah's Joliet dropped from $24.8 million on 201,000 admissions to $18.6 million on 115,000 admissions; Empress fell from $17.9 million on 167,000 admissions to $16.6 million on 114,000 admissions, and Hollywood in Aurora was down from $22.8 million on 256,000 admissions to $17.7 million on 134,000 admissions.

Overall, the four Illinois casinos dropped $12.3 million, from $97.6 million in gaming revenue in October 2002, to $85.3 million this October. In the same period, the four Indiana casinos nearest Chicago gained $7.5 million, from $71.1 million a year ago to $78.6 million this October.

Harrah's East Chicago showed the biggest gain, from $22.2 million to $26.2 million, while Horseshoe in Hammond rose from $27.5 million to $29.6 million, Trump in Gary was up from $10.2 million to $12.1 million and Majestic Star in Gary down from $11.5 million to $10.7 million.

Q. Why is it that Grand Victoria can still get by without charging admission, while the Empress, Harrah's and Hollywood all have charges? Doesn't that prove that the tax is just an excuse for casinos to add charges?

Bob, via e-mail

A. Grand Victoria's situation is very different from that at other casinos in the area. Most important probably is that it elected to remain on its original boat rather than build a new barge when dockside gaming was legalized. Grand Victoria put all its gaming positions on a single boat, with most of them on the main deck, from the start. So while the others sank big bucks into new facilities to replace the old two-boat casinos, Grand Vic was able to stay on its paid-up vessel and avoid another large capital investment. Since Empress, Hollywood and Harrah's are still paying for their new barges - and Harrah's also has construction of a luxury hotel in its recent past - it takes more revenue to make them profitable.

There are other differences. Grand Victoria draws more high-limit play than Harrah's, Empress or Hollywood, and the average customer drops more cash at the tables and slots there than at the others. That makes the $5 head tax that's piled on top of the gaming revenue tax a little easier to take.

Q. Harrah's East Chicago sent me a card that says they've added 40 new video poker machines. That seems like good news to me. The video poker pickings have been awfully slim there. What can you tell me about it?

Lil, via e-mail

A. The good news: There is more video poker selection at Harrah's East Chicago, with more multiple-game Game King machines. The bad news: The games are still low payers. The best of the new games is 7-5 Bonus Poker, which returns 98.1 percent with expert play. Harrah's East Chicago remains non-competitive for video poker players who know what they're looking for. The best games in northwest Indiana remain at Majestic Star.

Q. Does Multi-Strike Poker give you a lower payback than the same games on other machines? I ask because in the Nov. 21 Casino News and Notes, it says Majestic Star has Not So Ugly Deuces Wild, and that on Multi-Strike it pays 99.2 percent. You've said in the past that NSU Deuces pays 99.7 percent with expert play. Why the difference?

Hammond player, via e-mail

A. A typographical error left out a digit. The Multi-Strike version of Not So Ugly Deuces Wild returns 99.92 percent with expert play. Multi-Strike increases, not decreases, the expected return on standard video poker machines, given expert play specially adapted to getting to the later, higher-paying hands.

Not So Ugly Deuces, by the way, is a Deuces Wild game with the following pay table: natural royal flush 250-for-1 (increases to 4,000 for a five-coin wager); four 2s 200-for-1; royal flush with wild cards 25-for-1; five of a kind 16-for-1; straight flush 10-for-1; four of a kind 4-for-1; full house 4-for-1; flush 3-for-1; straight 2-for-1; three of a kind 1-for-1.

The machine doesn't say "Not So Ugly" - it just says "Deuces Wild." The "Not So Ugly" part is a nickname given the game by players who had taken to calling certain low-paying versions of Deuces Wild "Ugly Ducks."

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski