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Surfing casino-related websites

14 April 2009

Let's do a little Web surfing, and catch a wave to see what's going on at casinos and gambling-related sites.

Empress Casino (www.empresscasino.com): Chicago area players might want to check in for progress reports on when the Empress in Joliet might reopen. With a pavilion badly damaged by fire on March 20, doors have been closed even though the casino boat has been untouched.

For at least nine days after the fire, the notice on the Web site simply urged visitors to "please check back soon for a reopening update." Empress management, the state of Illinois and the city of Joliet all will want that to happen as quickly as possible. In February, Empress' gambling revenue of $14.3 million sent $1.8 million in taxes to the state and $837,000 to the city.

The fire disrupted a major, long overdue upgrade at the property. The casino opened in 1992, first operating with a temporary entrance to the original Empress boat. When the pavilion opened a year later, it was state of the art with its pyramid exterior and roomy interior housing Café Casablanca and what was then the Marrakech Market food court. It all worked together in what was the first themed property among the nation's riverboat casinos.

But the $50 million project that was interrupted by blaze was the first major spruce-up in the pavilion in all that time. An expanded buffet, new steakhouse, casual restaurant and coffee shop are all coming, along with upgraded VIP rooms and service.

The Joliet Fire Department has estimated damages at $340 million, and at the very least we can figure upgrades scheduled for completion in phases this summer and fall will be delayed. First priority has to be simply to get an entrance to the gambling boat open and the revenue flowing once again.

Meantime, a click on the "what's new" link at the Empress site brings a page empty except for its logo.

Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine (www.midwestgamingandtravel.com): A favorite among customers of both riverboats and Native American casinos since the mid-1990s, Midwest Gaming and Travel puts a sample article on its site for a free read each month. For the March issue, it was "Story of a Slot Machine Cheat," Steve Bourie's report on a Nevada Gaming Control Board employee who in the 1990s used his access to slot machine source codes to rig results and set up confederates to win jackpots.

I don't know what the free story is for April, but publisher John Busam has passed along word that the print magazine will include the complete Las Vegas chapter excerpted from the best-selling autobiography My Father, My Don by Tony "Tony Nap" Napoli. The book is a real page-turner, with its inside look at organized crime dating to the 1800s. Tony Nap's father, James "Jimmy Nap" Napoli, was a powerful mob boss whose career included an assassination attempt on "Untouchable" Elliot Ness. Napoli's Vegas chapter is a must-read for casino players interested in gambling roots.

Boyd Gaming's B Connected card (www.bconnected.com): Boyd has unified its player rewards program under a single card called "B Connected." The full program unites casinos including Blue Chip in Michigan City, Ind., Par A Dice in East Peoria, Ill., Sam's Town casinos in Mississippi, Louisiana and Nevada, and a number of other properties in Las Vegas and the South.

I signed up for a password when the site was launched, and have been playing around with it from time to time. My offers from various Boyd casinos are right there in one handy-dandy spot, quite aside from the clutter of casino mail littering my home office. And the more I play with the site's slot machine search, the better I like it.

When the site launched, much of the data for the slot search still needed to be input. I was coming up with blanks at too many properties. Now, it's easier to find what I'm looking for.

You can sort in a variety of ways. If you're determined to find WMS Gaming's Bigger Bang Big Event Gem Hunter game regardless of travel time, you can select that game from a menu, and the search will tell you it's available at the penny game at the Orleans in Las Vegas.

Most of the time, you'll want to start by picking a casino. On one search, I selected Blue Chip, then one-cent denomination, and got a list of all the penny games in the casino. I clicked on Secrets of Stonehenge, then clicked to view a map. That brought a diagram of the casino floor, marked off in zones from A through N, with Secrets of Stonehenge in Zone F — a handy-dandy feature for anyone looking for a specific game.

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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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski