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Best of John Grochowski
Update on the Blue Chip Casino29 June 2004
When the new blues bar opened at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Ind., it was just the latest in a series of changes and upgrades at the property about an hour's drive east of Chicago.
I've come to expect change as casinos compete for customers, but when I toured Blue Chip a few weeks ago, accompanied by slot director Don Juzwiak, table games director Bret Cox and community relations coordinator Dee Alexander Scott, I found an operation where just mere "change" is a gross understatement. With new penny slots, a revamped high-limit table-games room, special "mystery jackpot" machines among the latest in slots and upgraded food service, Blue Chip has added extra excitement to what always was a fun gaming experience.
Now, it had been a couple of years since I last made the trip to Michigan City, so it's only natural that quite a lot had been changed. On that trip, my focus was on a new poker room that lasted only about a year.
That top level on Blue Chip now houses a penny-slot area on one side and the high-limit table room on the other.
When the first 52 penny slots went in, Juzwiak says, "They went over like gangbusters." The area was soon expanded to 108 penny games. All are IGT multiple-line video slots with bonus rounds, and all are equipped with ticket printers for cash-outs.
"We put in the latest games - Kenny Rogers, Tabasco, Turkey Shoot," Juzwiak said proudly, showing off the room. "Cops and Donuts - we have police who play here, and they love 'em. We have some standard games, too. All fun games to play."
"Fun" is a word Juzwiak uses often for a collection of games from all over the slot spectrum. As I toured the casino, MASH had just been installed, right alongside new themed bonus slot favorites that include Young Frankenstein, American Bandstand and nickel Wheel of Fortune. On one wall are a collection of WMS Gaming's Monopoly Slots, with the Free Parking and Hot Properties themes.
There are progressives, such as the three banks of Triple Diamond slots players see as they enter, and celebrity games including Marilyn Monroe and Regis Philbin, with Frank Sinatra slots on the way.
There are nickel video slot favorites from Aristocrat and WMS as well as IGT, innovative games from Bally such as Bonus Frenzy and reel-spinning bonusing games such as IGT's Big Times Pay, with a fourth-reel that spins for a bonus multiplier on winners.
Alongside a terrific variety of slots is a special attraction in the mystery bonus reel-spinning games. Each of the 37 machines is equipped with an extra blue light on top. The light goes off when someone hits the jackpot.
"We're very proud of the Mystery Jackpots," Juzwiak explained. "The jackpot is guaranteed to hit between $500 and $1,149. Winning the mystery jackpot has nothing to do with whether you win on the game. It's all based on coin in."
All play at the machines is tracked, building a progressive jackpot. But the players don't have to have a winning combination on the reels to land this payoff. The random number generator selects a target jackpot amount between $500 and $1,149. Whichever player makes the wager that pushes the jackpot to the selected amount gets the prize.
Along with the fun, Blue Chip has strived for convenience, putting bill breakers on each floor, enabling players to exchange larger currency for smaller bills. Two of them accept tickets from the slots for easy cash-ins.
There's a wide variety of table games, too, with minimum bets starting at $5. There are casino standbys with blackjack, craps, roulette and mini-baccarat. In the high-limit area on the top floor, blackjack minimums start at $15. Other games include Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride and Jackpot Pai-Gow. Coming soon is Four Card Poker, and Cox says he's looking at still more games.
Off the high-limit room is a special premium table lounge, with blackjack minimums starting at $25. It's a high-comfort zone, with its own service bar and cashier's cage and televisions on the walls. Cox says players in that area also may order food from the snack bar menu.
Craps layouts have been revised to add one-roll hop bets to the center propositions. For my taste, you can skip the high house-edge props, but with 20x odds on a $5 minimum bet, it's an attractive game.
And, Cox says, "I don't want this to sound like an arrogant boast, but our employees are some of the friendliest people around."
I found nothing to contradict that as I played in the casino after the tour. I was greeted with smiles and friendly words - service just as it should be.
I had time for only one restaurant, and I was there on Tuesday - prime rib night on the buffet, and tasty it was.
Other options include the Grille on Easy Street for fine dining, the Diamond Deli, and now the blues bar on Friday and Saturday evenings with a light New Orleans-style menu that includes Cajun shrimp tacos, crab po' boys and deep-dish pecan pie.
After a comfortable night in Blue Chip's hotel, I was on my way home, vowing not to be so long before my next visit.
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Best of John Grochowski