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Changes at the Ameristar in East Chicago

16 August 2008

That this is a time of change for casinos in northwest Indiana is hardly news in East Chicago.

Horseshoe in Hammond soon has opened its huge new facility — nicknamed MOAB, for "mother of all boats" — that is sure to become a showpiece for gaming in the Midwest. Blue Chip in Michigan City is preparing for the grand opening of its new luxury hotel later this year as it tries to regain business lost to competition from Four Winds in New Buffalo, Mich.

Big changes, but at East Chicago's casino, change has been a constant.

The latest is the rebranding of the former Resorts Casino to Ameristar, a switch that came at the end of June. Since acquiring the property last year, Ameristar has steadily gone about remodeling, upgrading restaurants, reconfiguring its player rewards club — in general, bringing facilities and services in line with those offered at the company's other properties in Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, Mississippi and Nevada.

"We spent about $30 million in remodeling," said Rebecca Theim, Ameristar's director of external communications, who was visiting from Las Vegas for the July 20 Lionel Richie concert at the East Chicago property. "We've done a complete food and beverage upgrade. There are significant upgrades to the Waterfront Grill, making it more upscale and keeping it within Ameristar's standards for culinary excellence.

"We did an upgrade of the buffet, with much higher quality food than had been here before. We did a remodel of the casino, with new games and new bars on three of the four levels of the boat. The sports bar is completely remodeled, 20 new plasma screen TVs, much more inviting ambiance and again much higher quality food. A total refurbishment along the Ameristar standards."

Thus far, I've only eaten one meal at Ameristar since the changeover, and that was a breakfast buffet, so I can't attest to the food quality just yet. What I can do is tell you about the gaming floor, always my primary interest when I walk through a casino.

The remodeled 53,000-square foot is a comfortable enough place to play, and it's obvious Ameristar has stayed on top of slot trends, with its 1,800 machines from pennies on up using products from a variety of manufacturers — IGT, WMS, Aristocrat and Bally included.

That includes some of the showy new games that I first saw last November at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. Those include nickel Wizard of Oz games from WMS' Sensory Immersion line, with sights and sounds of the Hollywood classic taking players through the storyline as they advance from reels to bonus rounds. And penny players can try their hand at a Community Gaming experience with Press Your Luck, featuring a shared bonus round on a large plasma display above the bank of machines — no Whammys, please.

Along with poker and baccarat rooms at the top level, table games on other decks include craps with 100x odds, roulette, Spanish 21, Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride Bonus, Three Card Poker, Pai Gow Poker, and northwest Indiana's standard blackjack game — six decks, dealer stands on all 17s, players may double down after splitting pairs.

There's much to like, with one reservation. This is a tough house for video poker players. When I see a game like 9/6/4 Double Bonus Poker (96.8% return with expert play) and 6/5 Bonus Poker (95.1), I conclude this isn't a casino that wants me to play. Down the road at Majestic Star II, quarter players can find games such as 9/7/5 Double Bonus (99.1) and 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.5) that give players much more of a fighting chance.

We can hope that will evolve as Ameristar adapts to market that's already competitive and becoming more so. With the rest of its upgrades, the company certainly has shown a willingness to change for the better.

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> 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