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Sittin' On The Dock of The Bay

10 August 1999

Dockside gaming is here, and, to nobody's surprise, it's popular. Attendance figures are up throughout Illinois casinos since cruising requirements were dropped a few weeks ago.

Still, boarding and disembarking from the riverboats isn't exactly like walking in and out of a Las Vegas casino on dry land. For one thing, we still have to walk through turnstiles in Illinois. And that's led to a miniflood in my e-mail box of questions about dockside gaming:

Q. Now that we can board and leave at will, why do we still have to go through turnstiles?

A. The most important reason is that Illinois still has a head tax on casino admissions. The casino must pay the state $2 for every customer who boards. The need to count admissions means the turnstiles are here to stay.

Some casinos with two boats also track how many people are aboard each vessel. At Empress Joliet, customers walk through a turnstile to be counted for tax purposes, then walk through another turnstile to board a boat.

Q. If I board one boat, may I leave and go to the other at any time?

A. Yes. At Harrah's Joliet, which has only one boarding ramp, the boats are docked side-by-side. Customers who board Southern Star may move over to Northern Star by crossing the casino on the first level, walking out a door and onto a ramp that leads to Northern Star. There's no second turnstile to pass through.

Hollywood in Aurora has separate entrances for City of Lights I and City of Lights II, as does Empress Joliet for Empress I and Empress II. But with dockside, there are no cruise times or gaming sessions, and you may leave one and board the other at will.

Grand Victoria in Elgin was the best positioned to go dockside, with all its tables and slots on one vessel. The big change there was that Grand Victoria dropped its reservations system, the last one in the Chicago area.

Q. Do I still need a boarding pass?

A. That's up to the operator. When I visited Joliet earlier this month, Empress still required players to pick up a boarding pass from one of several self-service desks in the pavilion and hand it over when going through the turnstile. Harrah's had no boarding passes, and didn't even have any employees standing at the turnstiles as I passed through.

Q. Can we play any time, day or night?

A. Not quite. Empress, Hollywood, Harrah's and Grand Victoria all are operating 22 hours a day, from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. The two-boat operations usually shut down one boat late on weeknights. If you go to Empress at 3:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday, you'll be able to play on Empress II, but not Empress I.

Q. Is this the way things are going to stay?

A. We should start to see new facilities by fall, 2000. Hollywood is farthest along in plans to build a permanently moored barge to hold all its gaming positions, but others will follow. Hollywood plans a 75,000-square foot facility, with all gaming except live poker on the 50,000-square foot first level. The mezzanine will include the poker room, a 150-seat casual dining/deli restaurant, a 100-seat show bar and the employee cafeteria.

Hollywood's casino in Tunica, Miss., is an eye-popper, and I think we can expect something special here. We can expect others to follow suit. We also can expect the turnstiles to stay.

Q. Is cattle-car boarding over?

A. Yes and no. There's no more crush in line while waiting for a legal boarding session to begin. However, on weekend nights when casinos are operating to capacity, some customers still will have to wait in the pavilion while waiting for others to leave and open up space.

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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:

> 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