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Best of John Grochowski

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Magic at the Par-A-Dice

21 August 2007

I wouldn't exactly say I was expecting magic at the Par-A-Dice casino in East Peoria, but I had to wonder.

At 8 p.m. on the Monday night when my wife Marcy and I visited, a name was being drawn for a $500 prize. And who, in the name of the "Deathly Hallows," was the winner? A woman named Mary Potter. I could practically hear the cry of "Accio cash!"

As she was collecting her money, I was taking comfort in the presence of a long-standing tradition. Deuces Wild video poker has dozens of pay tables available to casinos. One goes like this, with payoffs for a one-coin wager: Natural royal flush, 250 (jumps to 4,000 with five coins wagered); four 2s, 200; royal flush with wild cards, 25; five of a kind, 15; straight flush, 9; four of a kind, 4; full house, 4; flush, 3; straight, 2; three of a kind, 1.

That's a 98.9 percent game with expert play, Par-A-Dice had the game when it opened in 1991. At the time, it was the best-paying video poker game in the Midwest, and the late video poker guru Lenny Frome nicknamed it "Illinois" Deuces Wild.

Illinois Deuces Wild is alive and well in the video poker room on the top deck at Par-A-Dice, in one back of quarter multigame machines that also include 9-7-5 Double Bonus Poker (99.1 percent with expert play). I was playing the Deuces when Mary Potter had her magic moment. A few minutes later, I had mine. I held two deuces, and up popped the other two, worth $250 for my five-quarter bet.

I left a message for Tammy Couchman, the slot director at Par-A-Dice and one of my long-standing friends in the casino industry, that I'd hit the deuces. At lunch the next day, she said, "Of course you did. I was waiting to here that the royal was next."

Couchman, who for a number of years was slot director at the Empress Casino in Joliet, has been at Par-A-Dice for five years now. She's overseen a revamping of the slot floor through the penny revolution, while also adding an enhanced high-limit room. There's a lot more than the Penny Lane room to one-cent slots, which have spilled out across the casino since my last visit two years ago.

Among them are some of the newest five-reel progressives from Bally, Hot Hot Super Penny. Marcy and I played them and had a good time, but they weren't hot hot enough for us to save our investment. I made some back on a penny game called Money Storm. While betting one penny per payline, I hit the tornado symbols to launch six free spins. On the third, four tornados blew across the reels to give me an additional 10 spins. A few spins later, another relaunch, for three more spins. Then three more. Ten more. And another three.

I wound up with 35 free spins and 2,700 credits --- that's $27 for a 20-cent bet --- in one of the longest bonus rounds I've ever played.

Along with a comped suite for a night, a terrific bone-in ribeye in the Boyd steak house and a chance to catch up with Couchman, it turned into a spellbinding stay at Par-A-Dice, even if my name's not Potter.

* * * *

In last week's column, I interviewed general manager Matt Harkness at the new Four Winds Casino would be opening in New Buffalo, Mich., about 15 miles past Michigan City, Ind., on Interstate 94. Then I took the media preview tour on Aug. 1, a day before the official opening. The tour confirmed that Four Winds is gorgeous and spacious, from hotel to restaurants to shops to 135,000 square-foot gaming floor.

My focus, of course, is on the games, and there was neither time nor opportunity to see as much as I'd have liked. For right now, I'll focus on video poker, then give another report after I've had a chance to wander the casino on my own.

I did not get to check out every machine, so there may be some good opportunities hiding. I can say that a majority of dollar and up machines feature three 99-percent-plus games: 8-5 Bonus Poker (99.2), 9-7-5 Double Bonus (99.1) and 9-6 Double Double Bonus (99.0). Good old Illinois Deuces is there (98.9), then it's a step down to 9-5 Jacks or Better (98.4).

Majestic Star in Gary still has better dollar games, with Not So Ugly Deuces Wild (99.7) and 9-6 Jacks or better (99.5), but the presence of 99-percenters on single-hand games is welcome in a market where even long-time video poker oasis Empress Joliet has eliminated its best pay tables.

For quarter players, the news at Four Winds isn't so good. Games include 8-5 Jacks or better (97.3), 6-5 Bonus Poker (96.9), the truly ugly 9-6-4 Double Bonus (96.4), 8-5 Double Double Bonus (96.8) and a fooler version of Deuces Wild with wild royals reduced to 20-for-1 and five of kind to 12-for-1 (97.1). You'll still do better at Majestic Star, and do as well just about anywhere.

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 6 to 7 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:

> 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