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Illinois Casinos Warm up to New Promotions

6 April 2004

It's been a long, cold winter - and fall and summer - for Illinois casinos and players alike, a deep freeze that set in during the heat of August. That's when a chilling hike in the gaming tax led operators to start charging admission, laying off employees and putting construction projects, equipment purchases and promotions on ice.

With the start of the new year, all casinos are at the bottom of the sliding scale for the gaming tax, and we're starting to see a little warming around the edges. A few more promotions, such as the Great $275,000 Hollywood Giveaway at Hollywood Casino in Aurora and the $100,000 Triple Overdrive at Empress in Joliet, are in progress. Last month, Hollywood sent cash vouchers to some former regulars who haven't played there lately. And we're starting to see a few new games and equipment upgrades.

Empress slot director Jim Ouimette says he's eager to make things fun again - fun with promotions and fun with new games. I took a walk through the Empress barge with Ouimette, who pointed out some of the new machines on board. For starters, there are banks of new quarter reel-spinning machines near the front of the entry level of the barge. For the last several years, most new slot machines added at Empress and other casinos have been video games. There were still plenty of dollar-and-up three-reel games, but the squeeze was on for quarter machines. Now quarter players have room to stretch out.

That doesn't mean video product has been ignored. The quarter Sphinx progressives toward the back of the first floor have been replaced by Signs of the Zodiac, a fun new Atronic game with multiple bonus events. One innovative feature is the Horoscope Bonus, where players can decide whether to take bonus credits, free spins or a "spin as long as you win" bonus.

Like the Sphinx games they replaced, Signs of the Zodiac has a large progressive jackpot that sat at more than $120,000 when I was at Empress. You have to bet max coins to be eligible for the progressive, and at 45 coins - or $11.25 - players going for the big jackpot are betting about as much as those who play $5 reel-spinners. There'll be more takers than there were on the Sphinx progressives with 90-coin max bets - you had to wager $22.50 a spin to have a shot at the jackpot.

Elsewhere, video keno and video blackjack have returned to some of Empress' Game King multigame machines, and Ouimette has beefed up Empress' always-strong video poker collection with more machines in an alcove toward the back of the first floor, on the left side as you walk in from the entrance. There you'll find new Super Times Pay, White Hot Aces and Fast Action multihand games, as well as other familiar themes.

This is not a full-scale thaw, mind you - we're unlikely to see elimination of admission charges until the state rolls back the gaming tax rate from the 70 percent max that makes low-limit play unprofitable for casinos, and nobody is rushing to rehire employees or start major construction projects. But a few promotions, some new games, a little extra fun - who can argue with that?

MORE NEW GAMES: On the Indiana side of the border, the flow of new games never stopped. That even applies to table games as Majestic Star in Gary has become the first area casino to add 3-5-7 Poker and High/Tie blackjack.

I've mentioned both games before, having tested them at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. High/Tie is a side bet on blackjack. Players have a choice of betting that their first card ties the dealer - the exact denomination must tie; Jacks don't tie other 10-value cards - or that the first card matches the dealer's both in denomination and suit, or that the player's and dealer's first cards combine to make a blackjack.

Winning blackjack and tie bets each pay 5-1, with house edges in a six-deck game of 4.7 percent on blackjack and 8.8 percent on ties.

Matches pay 16-1, and that's the best bet, with the house edge of 1.6 percent in a six-deck game. Basic strategy players who cut the house edge to less than 0.5 percent will do better to stick with the regular blackjack game, but average players who face a house edge in excess of 2 percent may find High/Tie interesting.

NEW AT HORSESHOE: In Hammond, the Horseshoe Casino has added 60 new nickel video slots. All are IGT games on the Diamond Level of the casino and are equipped for ticket in-ticket out play. Among the new themes are Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler," Buffet Mania, Antique Appraisal, Phone Tag, Cops and Donuts, and three-reel video versions of Red, White and Blue and Double Diamond.

Also at Horseshoe, the first nine days of 2004 brought two big winners on $1 Who Wants to Be a Binionaire progressive slot machines. First, Ruti Gros of Glenview hit for $229,0042 on Jan. 2. After the jackpot started to build again from the starting point of $150,000, Dinah Clay of Westmont hit for $150,990 on Jan. 9.

The Binionaire slots are three-reel, three-coin machines. In addition to the dollar games, there are 50-cent Binionaires with jackpots starting at $75,000.

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