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Farewell, Stardust

21 November 2006

For a number of years, I've made the Stardust my home on my annual jaunt to the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. An older resort, for sure, but one that had been well-kept, and one with a north Strip location that made it convenient to the expo site at the Global Gaming Expo.

No more. As of the beginning of November, the Stardust is closed, about to be demolished to make way for Boyd Gaming's new Echelon Place resort complex.

No doubt Echelon Place, due to open in 2010, will be big, beautiful and glamorous, giving Boyd a megaresort to compete with Wynn Las Vegas, the Venetian and all the enormous complexes that have displaced grand old Strip names such as the Dunes, Sands and Desert Inn.

Nonetheless, I'll miss the Stardust, with all its old Las Vegas atmosphere and history. Opened in 1958, the Stardust for years was home to the famous Lido de Paris revue. Siegfried and Roy got their Vegas start there in 1978. In later years, the showroom was the Wayne Newton Theater.

I never saw Wayne there --- the closest I came was playing hours of video poker outside the showroom. One time I was just about holding my own, losing a little money, when Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Steve Tucker walked past, on his way to the showroom to see Gene Pitney. I didn't know Steve was in town, we exchanged greetings --- and five minutes later I drew a royal flush. Whether you attribute the luck to Tucker, Newton's theater, Pitney or the random number generator, it's my one little piece of Stardust lore.

Last year, I hit another royal there, and this one was followed by a bit of an adventure. There was a progressive jackpot, and my screen said it was worth $1,344. The computer in the back offices said it should be a little over $1,200, but a big display behind the bar said it was $1,496. Slot attendants and technicians were mystified that there would be three different amounts on the same jackpot, but I was paid the highest total. I thank you, my wife thanks you, the IRS thanks you.

The Stardust was the casino that brought baccarat to Las Vegas in the late 1950s, and for many years had the distinction of having the brightest sign in Las Vegas, with multi-colored stars surrounding the Stardust name. That bright side of its history is set off by a dark side. A couple of the last mob scandals before the Strip was entirely taken over by corporate ownership happened here. The Stardust was sold after a huge skimming scandal in 1976, and again in 1983. After the 1983 turmoil, Boyd bought the operation and cleaned it up.

Forty-eight years of history leaves a lot of bits and pieces, of course, and many of those are being made available to the public. Starting Nov. 17 and continuing through Nov. 21, the Great American Auction group will be running a live auction at the Stardust along with a Webcast auction at www.greatamerican.com. As the auction begins, I'll be on a plane returning home from this year's Global Gaming Expo. I might just have to check out the Web auction for a little something to augment Stardust memories.

** ** ** **

Getting the food service mix just right at a casino operation is an ever-changing process, one we've seen in action at Harrah's Joliet ever since it opened in 1993. In the beginning, the high-end restaurant was Andreotti's Italian, followed by the Range steak house, then Van Buren's.

Now Van Buren's has been replaced by the Reserve steak house, and on the basis of one meal, I have to say this looks like the best restaurant Harrah's Joliet has ever had. The bone-in ribeye I had for my entrée was prime beef, and it was melt-in-your-mouth good. I love crab cakes, and the crab cake appetizer with chipotle aiole and cilantro slaw definitely gets my personal seal of approval. So does the vanilla bean crème brulee for dessert --- though I might have to go for the bread pudding with flaming whiskey sauce next time around.

With prime beef, an atmospheric room that includes an open kitchen and a chef's table where you can watch the kitchen work, and a wide-ranging menu, the Reserve takes its place as a contender among the top casino steak houses in the Chicago area.

** ** **

On my way out after dinner, I stopped by the Stage 151 lounge in the casino for a peek at opening night of the Lucky Star Karaoke contest. Each Thursday through Nov. 16, five finalists win $200 apiece and advance to the Nov. 30 finals to compete for a share of $2,000 with a shot at a $1,000 top prize.

Entries for opening night filled up fast --- and no, I wasn't among them. I'd have a much better chance winning my thousand on a video poker game.

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.

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> 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