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Best of John Grochowski
Touring the New Blue Chip Casino21 February 2006
When you walk in the front door at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Ind., what do you see?
No longer do you have to walk through a narrow opening to get to the slots and tables. No longer is your first view just the restaurant doors and the big counter that used to be in front of the casino entrance. On Blue Chip's new boat with 65,000 square feet of gaming space on a single level, the entrance is wide, you get a full view of the casino floor and it feels as if you're walking into a casino building, not just heading toward the boarding ramp.
Oh, the casino is still on a boat, all right, but that's barely noticeable. "People ask, 'Where is the boat,' and I tell them, 'You're standing on it,' said Blue Chip community relations coordinator "D" Alexander Scott, who guided me through my initial tour of the facility.
Joining us was slot director Don Juzwiak, to explain the whys behind the way the casino floor was designed. His pride in the Blue Chip creation showed through, and that's only natural. It's casino experience unlike any of his Indiana and Illinois neighbors. In Illinois, operators are limited by the state's maximum of 1,200 gaming position per license. Blue Chip's closest Indiana neighbors in Gary, East Chicago and Hammond operate on boats that can't come close to putting enough gaming space on one level, leaving customers to climb stairs or ride escalators from deck to deck.
That space left Blue Chip free to design a floor that would draw the player's eye around the casino, giving clear options as to what direction to go to find the games of choice.
Right from entry to the casino floor, there is purpose to the design. "We knew we would have this barrel vault," Juzwiak said, nodding toward a ceiling from 14 to 20 feet high. "We put slant top slots and video poker across the front because we didn't want to impede the view of the whole floor, and to give players something familiar that they'd recognize from before."
Just past the low-sitting reel-spinners and video poker games are one bank of tall machines, Pinball slots by Barcrest, to add a little excitement. To either side at the entry, players can see banks of progressive slots, each number on the progressive meter a different color --- an eye-catching touch.
There are almost mirror image touches as you proceed deeper into the casino. All the way to the far wall on one side are IGT Fort Knox multilevel progressive games. All the way to the far wall on the other side are Aristocrat Cash Express multilevel progresses. Pitting the popular Aristocrat product against IGT's new hit games is by design, too. "We told Aristocrat and IGT that's what we were doing," said Juzwiak, whose floor has games by WMS, Bally and Atronic along with Aristocrat and IGT.
Closer to the center of the casino, a look left finds a bank of $1 Win and Ride progressives, where the top jackpot brings a choice of $50,000 in cash or a $60,000 RV along with a year's worth of gas and training to drive and use the vehicle. To the right is the quarter version, Win and Drive, where the top prize could change with the seasons --- truck, boat, snowmobile.
There's a dedicated video poker room, along with video poker scattered throughout the casino. The video poker itself needs some work --- pay tables are a couple of notches down from Majestic Star, Trump and Resorts, with games such as 6-5 Bonus Poker Deluxe and 8-5-4 Double Bonus Poker. That is something Juzwiak seemed interested in addressing, so be patient.
As for tables, for the first time Blue Chip has a craps pit, with five tables offering 20x odds. There's plenty of blackjack (six decks, stand on all 17s, double after split), with minimum bets starting at $5. Many of the blackjack tables offer the 21 + 3 side bet. Other games include roulette, mini-baccarat, Caribbean Stud, Three Card Poker, Four Card Poker, Let It Ride Bonus, Deuces Wild Hold'em Fold'em and Texas Hold'em Bonus.
A state of the art air filtration system can refresh air in the casino 15 times an hour. A plus for table games dealers: Mini-vents on the table tops directly in front of the dealer can blow gusts of air up, helping clear smoke.
Scattered throughout the casino are 16 banking centers with kiosks that are more than ATMs --- you can break bills into smaller currency, or redeem cashout tickets from the slots without having to go to the cashier. Plasma screens throughout the floor play casino promotions, spotlight winners or just tune into TV --- on my day at Blue Chip, screens in the table pit were tuned to CNN and ESPN.
If space permitted, I could fill an entire column on dining options. The Options buffet is a big step forward, with six actions stations. I built my lunch around a tasty piece of rotisserie chicken that had been turning on the spit moments before I picked up my plate. Beyond Options are the Fixations coffee kiosk, Nelson's Deli and William B's Steak House --- I want to return and try the seafood stuffed lobster.
The new Blue Chip was two years in the making, but along with all the other sights, one thing was easy to see. It was worth the wait.
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
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