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Best of John Grochowski

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Changes at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond

19 August 2008

A few minutes before the official media tour of the new half-billion dollar barge at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, I mentioned to a colleague that I'd taken a little private walk around the casino floor.

"Is it all they say?" she asked. "Is it really like Vegas?"

It really is, I told her. The 108,000-square foot gaming area, with more than 100 table games and more than 3,200 slot machines, with elegant high-limit gaming rooms, a top-notch poker room and a gorgeous Asian games room, would not be at all out of place on the Las Vegas Strip.

She apparently agreed at first sight, as she let out a "Wow!" as we were led into the casino.

I've seen more than 150 casinos in my time, and I don't "wow" easily. But this was worth at least a few "whoas." With a ribbon-cutting nine days before its official Aug. 8 grand opening, Horseshoe was a knockout even before all the games were up and running.

Much ado has been made of the Venue, Horseshoe's state-of-the-art, 2,500-seat theater where Bette Midler was scheduled for the Aug. 8 grand opening concert — the casino actually opened more than a week before the big event. The venue deserves the hype, but I'm here to talk about gaming, so let's take a spin through what to expect.

**Poker players have a first-class venue in a 34-table, World Series of Poker-themed room. Two of the tables are reserved for high-stakes games in "Benny's Backroom," featuring a large picture of Horseshoe and World Series of Poker founder Benny Binion. The two-tiered room emphasizes World Series of Poker ties, especially on the second level with photos of poker legends Johnny Moss, Bobby Baldwin, Stu Unger and Doyle Brunson.

With the new room, Horseshoe will be able to bring World Series of Poker circuit events to the Chicago area for the first time.

**On the old Horseshoe boat, which opened in 1996 as Empress Hammond, Asian games and high-limit tables shared one room. Here, they're separated, though only a doorway apart. The gorgeous Asian games area — "Le Cheng," or "Happiness" — emphasizes the Chinese lucky number eight, including an octagon-shaped baccarat room off the main room. There are also two private, single-table salons for high-stakes baccarat. In the main room, games are baccarat, with limits from $20 to $10,000, along with blackjack, pai gow poker and pai gow tiles.

The Asian games room also includes a noodle bar, while the high-limit table games room next door, with wagers from $25 to $25,000, includes a buffet area. Players can get a pass at the table to go the buffet, then be right back to the tables.

**High-limit slot players have their own room, too, with slots from $1 to $1,000. The single $1,000 machine is a three-reel Red White and Blue. You can only bet one credit at a time — at $1,000 a pop, that's more than plenty — and payouts range from $2,000 for three blanks to $400,000 for red, white and blue 7s.

**The rest of us haven't been forgotten. Slots on the main floor start at 2-cent denominations, with plenty of nickels, quarters and dollars, and I saw table games with minimums as low as $5.

**Taking the escalator down from the second level, home of the buffet and the Venue, I spotted a keno lounge. When open, it will be the first venue for live keno in the Chicago area.

**Many quarter video poker games were not up and running yet on ribbon cutting day. I did get a chance to check out some dollar machines, and there were some good ones. Pay tables on Game King multigame machines included 15/11 Not So Ugly Deuces (99.9% return with expert play), 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.5), 9/7/5 Double Bonus (99.1) and 9/6 Double Double Bonus (99.0).

That's just a snapshot, one day's impressions. There's lots more there, and it's going to be fun to explore.

** ** ** **

Most of us will never play the $1,000 slot machine in Horseshoe's high-limit slot room. Heck, I get nervous at dollar level. But if you're well-heeled and tempted, keep the tax man in mind.

The IRS requires you to sign a tax form W2-G on any slot win of $1,200 or more. On the $1,000 Red, White and Blue, that means a tax form on every payout — the lowest-paying winning combo is three blank spaces, and that pays $2,000.

If you itemize deductions on your tax return, the federal government allows you to deduct losses up to the amount of winnings. If you keep careful records and itemize, you can avoid a potential big tax bill.

However, many states, Indiana and Illinois among them, do not allow you to deduct gambling losses. It is possible to wind up with a big losing session, yet have tens of thousands of dollars in W-2Gs. That means a big state tax bill despite your overall losses. Be careful.

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