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Q & A with Grochowski

13 July 2004

When folks at Sun Publications - the Sun-Times' sister papers in the western suburbs - asked me to speak at their Senior Showcase in Naperville recently, they scheduled my seminar last. That way, no one had to clear the room to make way for another speaker if the question-and-answer session ran overtime.

Those who attended didn't disappoint -- there were plenty of questions during the allotted hour, and a little more, as well as a few from people who came up to me afterward.

Let's check out a small sample of what was on people's minds:

Will we ever get rid of the admission charges and other fees at Illinois casinos?

Probably not until the Legislature moves to roll back the gaming tax increase imposed last year. As long as that sliding scale with a 70 percent top rate remains in force, along with a $5 admission tax, the economics just don't work for most casinos to let everyone in for free.

We're seeing a little loosening up this year. Empress in Joliet now has free admission on Sundays and Wednesdays, Harrah's Joliet has been running newspaper ads with admission coupons, and Empress, Harrah's and Hollywood in Aurora all have sent admission vouchers to customers via direct mail.

But the days of comping admission for everyone are gone, at least until conditions change. This is a tax that has hurt pretty much everyone involved. Casinos have had to discourage business and keep revenue down because low-limit play is unprofitable. Players find themselves faced with fees for admission, parking and soft drinks, tougher comps and a decline in bonus cash offers. The state reaped a smaller than expected gain in tax revenue at a high cost -- losing thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in construction projects. Empress elected to refit an existing barge instead of building a new one, Harrah's scrapped plans to build a hotel in Metropolis, and smaller projects -- such as the reopening of Hollywood's Seven Fortunes restaurant -- were shelved.

The state would have realized far, far more revenue if it had left the tax rate alone and instead increased the number of gaming positions from 1,200 to 2,000 per license -- which still would have left Illinois casinos smaller than competitors in Indiana and Missouri.

Have you heard anything about an Indian casino in Hinckley? What do you think the chances are of that happening?

I don't know about Hinckley, but rumors of Native-American interest in Illinois sites come up every so often. Last week the Ho-Chunk Nation floated a proposal for a casino in south suburban Lynwood. Last year, the same tribe was behind a casino proposal in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates.

The interest has always been there. This is potentially an extremely lucrative market, with a low number of gaming positions serving a large population. But to get it done would take a compact with the governor and approval by the Legislature, and expansion of gaming is always a tough political ticket.

By federal law, any form of gambling that is legal in a state is also legal on tribal lands in that state. However, there are no tribal lands in Illinois, and Native Americans seeking to purchase land and develop casinos in this state would have to go through the same political process as anyone else.

Hollywood has ticket printers on some of its slot machines now. What do you think?

It's not just Hollywood. Casinos throughout Illinois are in the process of testing ticket-in, ticket-out units. Permanent installation will require approval by the Illinois Gaming Board.

Approval seems inevitable. Ticket printers are being used successfully in other states, including Indiana. When players hit the button to cash out, a bar-coded ticket is printed out. Players may then either take the ticket to the cage to cash in, or insert it in the bill validator in another machine for credits to continue playing. No coins or tokens are dropped from the machines, and indeed, many slot machines equipped with ticket printers have no coin heads at all.

The biggest negative I can think of is that some players will miss the sound of coins and tokens clanking into slot trays. But there are plenty of benefits to both casinos and customers.

For starters, it means no more lugging buckets of coins to the cage, and it means no more getting shorted a coin or two when the hopper malfunctions. It means no more waiting for hopper fills or for a slot attendant to clear hopper jams -- wastes of time for the customer and unprofitable down time on the machine for the casino. The casino also gains in not having to keep large, expensive inventories of coins or tokens on hand.

It won't be long before all machines have ticket printers. The process probably won't stop there. Eventually, we'll probably be using smart cards, transferring credits from card to machine when we play, then back to the card when we cash out. There are many regulatory concerns to sort out before we get to that point, though, so ticket printers are the wave of the present.

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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