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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Argosy's Empress Gets That "Vegas" Feel

13 August 2003

If not for the fact Harrah's Joliet Casino and the Hollywood Casino Aurora preceded it in opening permanently docked facilities, the opening of the new Argosy's Empress Casino & Hotel in Joliet would be much more spectacular news than it is.

After more than a decade of casino gambling in the Chicago area, players have become more sophisticated and have grown to rather expect the stunning new gaming experience that awaits them at the new Argosy's Empress.

Gone is the long march down the ramp leading to the twin vessel operation, the Empress I and Empress II, which the property opened with in 1992. Guests gain access to the new structure via a much more appealing, shorter, more pedestrian friendly walkway that includes escalators as an alternative to a short flight of stairs.

Phase I of the transition began at 8:30 am on May 14 when the Empress I was closed and the top level of the new casino was opened to the public. Phase II was scheduled for this week with the shutting down of Empress II and the opening of the lower level of the barge.

The new Argosy's Empress Casino is unique in the market in that it's 50,000 square feet of gaming space (15,000 feet more than the two vessels were able to accommodate) occupies two levels. Both Harrah's Joliet and Hollywood Aurora are single-level operations.

The two levels are accessible by both escalator and elevators.

At the present time, since Illinois restricts its casino license holders to 1,200 gaming positions, there's a lot more room for guests to move about. If the restriction on gaming positions is ever lifted, look for that space to fill up fast with more slot machines.

There are also the elevated ceilings and improved air quality that guests have come to expect of permanently docked barge gaming.

I toured the top level on opening day. I overheard comments from other guests that mirrored mine. The new facility creates a much more Las Vegas style casino experience. Instead of walking into a compacted environment, you are greeted by an expanse of slots, table games, and carousels of color and light.

The blackjack, roulette, and craps tables themselves are brand spanking new. There are also 500 new slot and video poker machines to go along with the existing inventory that was selected to make the move from the boats.

The old Empress operation was distinguished from its competition by a strong video poker product as well as the area's only dedicated video poker room. It doesn't appear a similar emphasis will be placed in the new facility, although some 200 video poker machines, including some of IGT's newest models, will be scattered around the floors.

Guests will appreciate the new 40-seat deli on the lower level, a vast improvement over the cramped, smoky corner it occupied on the boat. The overall décor of the facility is also quite appealing, what with leather wall coverings, stone-wrapped structural supports, wood and wrought iron treatments, hand-carved furnishings, and four original Picassos in the new high limit area.

The new Argosy's Empress Casino & Hotel represents a welcome upgrade to the Chicago-area casino gambling experience. The property has lost ground in the market in recent years, most notably to its Joliet competition at Harrah's. The conversion to the new facility will provide just the shot in the arm it needed.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp