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Changes at the Ameristar East Chicago

2 October 2007

In the beginning, there was Showboat Mardi Gras, which begat Harrah's Mardi Gras, which begat Harrah's East Chicago, which begat Resorts East Chicago, which soon will beget Ameristar East Chicago.

Far more than any other casino property within hailing distance of Chicago, the boat in East Chicago has seen ownership change and rebranding. When the Indiana Gaming Commission announced Sept. 14 that it has approved the transfer of ownership from Resorts International Holdings LLC, to Ameristar Casinos Inc., the stage was set for one more change to the marquee.

Ameristar says it will change the name of the casino within a year. A press release said the change would come after improvements are made in areas including to food and beverage offerings and game mix.

No one will know exactly what improving the game mix will mean until it happens. (Changing the ratio of slots to tables? Video slots to reel-spinning slots? Penny games to dollar games? Adding more new slot titles and the latest technology?) One thing we can do is to check what Ameristar has done in its other markets on the games that incorporate an element of skill --- blackjack and video poker.

I consulted two of my favorite resources to run the check. For video poker, I looked at the vpFree Web site, groups.yahoo.com/group/vpFREE, a free site that maintains a data base of full-pay video poker game in the United States. Then to check blackjack rules, I turned to Stanford Wong's monthly Current Blackjack News ($79 per year on the Web or via e-mail, $129 via mail, Pi Yee Press, www.bj21.com).

This has become an unfriendly video poker market in the last year or so, with Resorts, Empress and Harrah's in Joliet and Blue Chip in Michigan City, Ind., slashing pay tables, and even Majestic Star in Gary downgrading pay tables on many of its machines. So I was curious to see what Ameristar has done in its other markets: Council Bluffs, Iowa; Kansas City, Mo., and St. Charles, Mo., near St. Louis.

The really good stuff is in St. Charles. This is to be expected. When St. Louis casinos opened for business, they were allowed to offer only games of skill, including video poker, blackjack and craps. With no slots at the start, St. Louis casinos cultivated a healthy video poker trade.

At Ameristar St. Charles, quarter players find a solid selection of games that will return 99 percent-plus with expert play. The 25-cent mix includes 9-6 Jacks or better (99.5 percent), paying 9-for-1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes, along with 8-5 Bonus Poker (99.2), 9-6 Double Bonus Poker (99.1), 9-6 Double Double Bonus (99.0) and 12-8 Loose Deuces Wild (99.2). The 9-7 Double Bonus is also offered on quarter Multi-Strike Poker machines.

At the 50-cent level, Ameristar St. Charles offers 9-6 Jacks or Better and 12-8 Loose Deuces, and the Loose Deuces also are available to dollar players.

There's not quite as broad a selection at Ameristar's other casinos. At Ameristar Council Bluffs, there's 8-5 Bonus Poker for $2, $5 and $10 players, and 9-6 Double Double Bonus progressives for quarter, 50-cent and dollar players. Video poker players here would love to see that quarter Double Double Bonus progressive.

A progressive is also the prime attraction at Ameristar Kansas City, with 9-7 Double Bonus Poker for quarter and dollar players.

On to blackjack. At all three locations, Ameristar has its dealers hit soft 17. That's a rule that pads the house edge by two-tenths of a percent. It's also a rule that's not permitted under Indiana regulations, where the dealer must stand on all 17s.

At Council Bluffs, Kansas City and St. Charles, the most common blackjack games have the dealer hit soft 17 on a six-deck game, with players allowed to double down after splitting pairs. There are no added frills at Council Bluffs, yielding a game with a 0.63 percent house edge against basic strategy players. At St. Charles and Kansas City, players are also allowed to resplit Aces, reducing the house edge to 0.56 percent.

In northwest Indiana, six decks, dealer stands on all 17s, double after splits permitted for a house edge of 0.41 percent is the most common game, with most other tables using eight decks, same rules, house edge of 0.43 percent. The Ameristar games would fit right in once adjusted for Indiana regulations.

A couple of tables in Council Bluffs, a single-deck table and a double-deck game, pay only 6-5 on blackjacks instead of the standard 3-2. The scourge of 6-5 blackjack has not yet hit northwest Indiana or northeast Illinois, and let's hope it stays that way. That pads the house edge all the way up to 1.45 percent on the single-deck game and 1.78 on the two-decker.

Ameristar won't bring precisely same offerings to northwest Indiana. Games are tailored to market conditions, and no doubt Ameristar will weigh what it needs to do to meet its competition as it "improves" its game mix. Let's just say that some of that quarter video poker the company offers in its other markets would be most welcome here.

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