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Best of John Grochowski
Blue Ribbon Video Poker at the Blue Chip Casino1 August 2006
A while back, I got a call from Blue Chip casino in Michigan City, asking if I'd evaluate their video poker and tell them what they needed to do to meet their northwest Indiana competition.
I do this every now and again. A number of years ago, when Jef Bauer was the marketing director at Majestic Star in Gary, he asked what video poker players would like to see. Later, Mark Kashuda asked for evaluations, first when he was slot director at Trump Casino in Gary, and later at Resorts East Chicago.
Apparently, all were serious about giving video poker players what they wanted, because in every case an upgrade in pay tables followed.
Now Blue Chip, with Don Juzwiak as slot director, has made a quantum leap in its video poker product. The Blue Chip floor used to be filled with low-paying games such as 7-5 Jacks or Better (96.2 percent return with expert play) and 6-5 Bonus Poker (96.9). Now virtually everything is at least a 98-percent game, with a strong selection of 99-percenters.
The really good stuff is toward the back of the casino, angling to the right a bit as you walk back. There you'll find a video poker area, with several rows of multiple-game Game King machine. There quarter players will find full-pay 9-6 Jacks or Better (99.5 percent return with expert play), 8-5 Bonus Poker (99.2), 9-7-5 Double Bonus Poker (99.1), "Illinois" Deuces Wild (98.9) and 8-6 Bonus Poker Deluxe.
What do all those numbers mean? In most video poker games, we'll identify them by the payoffs on full houses and flushes. Those are the payoffs most frequently changed in order to raise or lower the payback percentage on a video poker machine. A 9-6 Jacks or Better game pays 9-for-1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes, while a 7-5 Jacks or Better machine pays 7-for-1 on full houses and 5-for-1 on flushes. We lose a little more than 1 percent of long-term return for each unit the payback is lowered on full houses and flushes.
On Double Bonus Poker, the best-paying games increase the payoffs on straights from the 4-for-1 offered by most games to 5-for-1 --- that's the "5" in 9-7-5 Double Bonus.
A 9-6 Jacks or Better game, such as Blue Chip has now, gives the player a much better shot to win than the 7-5 Jacks or Better games that have been cleared out. So, for that matter, do 8-5, 8-6 and 9-5 Jacks or Better games, and you'll find those on Blue Chip's floor, too. In most of the multiple-game machines, and most of the single-line dollar games, you'll find pay tables at that level, a big step forward but not quite as strong as the great games in the video poker area. But check out the games on each machine. I found a quarter Triple Play Poker machine with 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker (99.0 percent with expert play), and many dollar Game Kings have 8-5 Bonus Poker (99.2).
It's part of a big overall push at Blue Chip. A bank of dollar progressive slot machines, Built for Play, features three-reel games with Prime Rewards cards and Blue Chip restaurant logos as symbols. They're designed to be rapid-hit progressives, and Juzwiak expects the top jackpot to be paid out about once a week. The week before my walk-through, they'd paid a $10,890 jackpot; on my trip, the meter stood at about $7,400. Video keno players will find a lot more of what they're looking for, too, with a new bank of keno games toward the back of the casino, and more keno options along with poker on multiple-game machines up front.
In June, Blue Chip led the way in northwest Indiana by paying 92 percent on its electronic games, followed by Majestic Star II at 91.8 and Majestic Star at 91.7. That's a big step up in overall slot paybacks, to go along with Blue Chip's great leap forward in video poker.
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Empress Casino in Joliet has announced a big upgrade of its own. For weeks, Empress has been advertising "a better way to play." That "better way" involves a change in its player rewards system, bringing new benefits along with enhanced cash back for premium players.
The Now club card that replaces the old Preferred card has three tiers --- Sapphire, Gold and Platinum, and three separate cash back rates. At Sapphire level, 500 points brings $5 in cash back, while you get that five bucks for 450 points at Gold level or for 425 points at Platinum level.
That's all same-day cash back, too, which in my eyes is a very good thing. Beyond the accelerated cash back, there are extra perks at every level. I'm not going to get into the whole list here, but one thing that intrigued me is that Empress is signing on with partner businesses in the Chicago area for instant discounts and free offers. I don't have a list of businesses yet --- the Empress people say it's a growing, evolving thing. I look forward to seeing how this shakes out as much as anybody. Should be fun.
Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at http://1059freefm.com.
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Best of John Grochowski