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Best of John Grochowski

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Will I Do Better in an Average One-Hour Session in Blackjack or Video Poker?

21 June 2005

Q. My wife and I were at Harrah's East Chicago, taking one last look around, and we started talking with one of the slot attendants. She said there were lots of changes coming, and she didn't mean just at Harrah's. Before we could ask what she meant, she was called away. What changes do you suppose she's talking about?

A. The closing of Harrah's East Chicago and its reopening as Resorts East Chicago is the first, and most obvious, switch, but there's a fairly lengthy list of changes and potential changes coming to Illinois and Indiana casinos:

** Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Ind., is building a new casino boat that should be ready toward the end of the year. It's a $150 million project that will put 75,000 square feet of casino space on a single level, replacing the 45,000 square feet of casino space spread through three decks on Blue Chip's current vessel.

** Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin is near approval for its almost-new ownership. As a Mandalay Resorts property, Grand Victoria is part of the Mandalay merger with MGM-Mirage that needed to go before both the Illinois Gaming Board and the Federal Trade Commission.

** Empress Joliet, now an Argosy property, is next on the list to have new ownership OK'd by the Illinois Gaming Board. Empress is being sold to Penn National, which also owns Hollywood Casino in Aurora. Approval seems likely to come sometime this summer.

The switch from Harrah's to Resorts in East Chicago was necessitated by the Harrah's-Caesars merger that created the largest casino company in the world. Harrah's found itself with three Indiana casinos, including Horseshoe in Hammond and Caesars Indiana in Elizabeth, and had to divest itself of one to comply with the limit of two licenses per owner under state law.

I'm curious to see what Mark Kashuda does as slot director at Resorts. He was responsible for a big upgrade in video poker pay tables when he was at Trump Casino in Gary. In fact, Kashuda asked me to take a look at the video poker games at Trump and make recommendations. No sooner had I written a column on the big step forward in Gary than I heard Kashuda was taking the job at Resorts.

Q. Now that Gov. Blagojevich is behind the idea of increasing the number of games at casinos, how long do you think it will be before it happens?.

A. Maybe sooner, maybe later, maybe never. The governor's proposal is a classic case of not only wanting to have his cake and it eat too, but wanting everybody else's to go with it. The proposal would increase the legal limit on gaming positions per casino license from 1,200 to 2,400, but would charge an upfront fee for each position added, and would leave in place the gaming tax with a sliding scale that maxes out at 70 percent for revenue in excess of $250 million. Given that casinos have adjusted their marketing strategies to attract enough business to approach, but not exceed, that $250 million threshold, it seems unlikely that any would want to add gaming positions that would virtually guarantee they'd trigger the maximum tax rate.

I asked one local slot director what he thought, and he said flat out that his casino wouldn't use the extra positions. "If they rolled back the tax to 50 percent and charged the fee upfront to add the positions, well, it would be expensive, but we'd probably do it. With a 70 percent tax, there's no way we could do that."

The one Illinois casino that happily does well beyond that $250 million barrier is Grand Victoria. But Grand Victoria remains on its original boat, and doesn't have as much room to expand quickly as the casinos that have replaced boats with barges. Taking full advantage of doubling the number of gaming positions probably would require new construction, and even Grand Victoria would have to think thrice before investing in new facilities with a 70 percent tax in place.

If Illinois is serious about increasing tax revenue from casinos, its best option remains adding gaming positions, but rolling back the tax rate.

Q. If the house edge on a six-deck blackjack game is about a half percent --- I play basic strategy --- and the house edge on a video poker game like 9-6 Jacks or Better is also about a half percent, will I do better in an average one-hour session in blackjack or video poker?

A. The average video poker session won't include a royal flush, which comes up only about once per 40,000 hands. Royals account for about 2 percent of your overall payback, so in the average session you're seeing more like a 2.5 percent house edge. Also, video poker plays much faster than blackjack --- about 500 hands per hour in video poker, 50 per hour at a full blackjack table. So in an average hour, you'll lose money much faster at video poker. On the other hand, when the royals come, you get back a lot more at once than you can playing $5 blackjack.

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> 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