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The Best Video Poker Plays in the Chicago Area

14 December 2004

For the last couple of years, when readers have asked about the best places in the Chicago area to play video poker, I've responded that quarter players get the best deal at Majestic Star in Gary, while for dollar play, Empress in Joliet has a small edge, with Majestic Star second.

That remains basically true, with Empress cementing its dollar lead with the upgrade of its Double Double Bonus poker progressives to a 9-6 pay table to go with a sequential royal jackpot. Along with 9-7 Double Bonus Poker progressives and other 99-percent-plus games on the multiple-game Game King machines, Empress is still tops for dollar players.

On quarters, though, Majestic Star has a challenger, one very close to home. Right across the corridor from Majestic Star is Trump Casino, and Trump has its own attractions for single-hand quarter players.

On Majestic Star's quarter Game Kings, there are a couple of standout games. To start with, there's 9-6 Jacks or Better, the classic favorite that jump-started video poker's rise to popularity in the 1980s. The "9-6" stands for a 9-for-1 payoff on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes.

With a 9-6 pay table, Jacks or Better returns 99.5 percent in the long run with expert play. The game may be a little bland for some tastes -- there are no big four of a kind bonuses, with all quads paying 25-for-1, or 125 coins for a five-coin bet. But two-pair hands pay 2-for-1 instead of the 1-for-1 we see on most games these days, which makes for an even-keel game that gives a good deal of play for your money.

The other standout on Majestic Star's quarter machines is 9-7 Double Bonus Poker, which returns 99.1 percent in the long run with expert play. That's not quite as good as 9-6 Jacks or Better, but Double Bonus is a different kind of game. Most four of a kinds pay 50-for-1, or 250 coins for a five-coin bet -- double the quad payoffs on Jacks or Better. Four 2s, 3s or 4s bring 80-for-1, or 400 for a five-coin bet, and four Aces bring 160-for-1, or 800 for a five-coin bet. Losses are faster here than on Jacks or Better, but big wins, with four Aces on a quarter machine bringing up to $200, are more frequent than on a game where the four-of-a-kind maximum payback is only $31.25.

Majestic Star used to have more 99-percent games on its quarter Game Kings, but most of the pay tables have been downgraded. The good stuff is still available on the dollar Game Kings, but on quarters, Bonus Poker has been downgraded from an 8-5 pay table to 7-5; Double Double Bonus Poker has been reduced from 9-6 to 9-5, and Deuces Wild has been reduced from the "Not So Ugly" version to the game nicknamed "Illinois Deuces."

Trump does have Not So Ugly Deuces Wild on quarters, and that's part of its claim on the loyalties of quarter video poker players. The machines don't say "Not So Ugly Deuces," they just say Deuces Wild. Players recognize it by its pay table -- 250-for-1 (or 4,000 for the maximum five-coin bet) for a natural royal flush; 200-for-1 for four deuces; 25-for-1 for a royal with wild cards; 16-for-1 for five of a kind; 10-for-1 for a straight flush; 4-for-1 for four of a kind; 4-for-1 for a full house; 3-for-1 for a flush; 2-for-1 for a straight, and 1-for-1 for three of a kind.

With expert play, Not So Ugly Deuces returns 99.7 percent in the long run, making it a higher-paying game than either of the Majestic Star quarter standouts. Deuces Wild isn't every player's cup of tea -- it's more volatile than Jacks or Better, and strategy is a little more complex -- but this is a solid option. The Majestic Star version of quarter Deuces Wild reduces five of a kind payoffs to 15-for-1 and straight flushes to 9-for-1, leaving a 98.9-percent game.

Trump also goes Majestic Star one better on Double Double Bonus Poker, offering the 9-6 pay table that pays 99 percent in the long run, while Majestic's 9-5 game returns 97.9 percent. On the other hand, the machines I checked in my walk-through didn't have Jacks or Better, and the Double Bonus Poker was a 9-6 game instead of Majestic's superior 9-7.

Video poker players can pay their money and take their choice, but both Gary casinos have 99-percent-plus games that we're not seeing on single-hand quarter games anywhere else in the area.

While I was in Indiana checking out Trump and Majestic Star, I made a stop at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond and found a couple of things of interest.

Those who are inclined -- and bankrolled -- to play high-limit roulette will find the best deal in the area here. In the high-limit room, with $25 minimum wagers, Horseshoe offers single-zero roulette. That nearly halves the house edge, down to 2.7 percent from the 5.26 percent on double-zero wheels. Too rich for my blood, but a nice feature for the big players.

I also looked over the menu at JB's Gourmet Sandwiches and Salads at the Horseshoe pavilion. My eyes landed on the Bento boxes, with either barbecue duck or sea eel accompanied by siu mai (pork-filled wontons), ha gau (shrimp dumplings), Asian salad and sticky rice. Not sure about the eel, but the duck and go-withs sound good to me.

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski