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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Chicago-Area Gaming Market Re-Inventing Itself

1 January 2001

When the Illinois Riverboat Gambling Act was enacted 10 years ago, it was with the intention of having floating casinos cruise the scenic waterways of the Midwest to bring economic vitality to depressed regions of the state while at the same time recapturing the charm of a by-gone slice of Americana.

What a difference a decade makes, especially when politics, special interests, and money are involved. The riverboats aren't cruising anymore, thanks to the dockside gambling legislation passed last year. Approximately one year from now the vessels themselves will begin to disappear.

The proposed casino in Rosemont, Illinois, is going to float in a moat, a far cry from the days of state-mandated travels up and down the lazy river. Now at least two existing properties have made plans to send their existing vessels up the river for good and replace them with barges.

The Illinois Riverboat Gambling Act should be retroactively renamed the Illinois Barge Gambling Act. Whatever riverboat charm that still lingers on the permanently docked vessels that the slot machines and gaming tables currently call home will soon vanish in favor of the illusion of land-based casinos.

Earlier this summer the Hollywood Casino in Aurora announced plans to replace its twin-vessel operation with a multi-million dollar gambling barge. Then Harrah's Joliet Casino unveiled plans to send the Southern Star II and the Northern Star packing as they introduce a new one-story casino barge. Both projects are slated to be completed in the fall of 2001.

Harrah's Joliet is pumping $70 million into its multiphase expansion. In addition to the gambling barge itself, the project includes a five-story parking garage with 980 total spaces and 4,000 square feet of retail space located on the ground level. A climate-controlled skywalk will connect the structure to the new pavilion.

A courtyard will replace the existing entrance to the riverboats and provide direct access to the new casino barge. A new 250-seat buffet will also be located in the pavilion.

The new casino will actually be two barges measuring 200 X 200 feet, increasing the gaming floor by 400 square feet. The barges will be enclosed by a wall separating them from the river, which will eliminate any visible hints that the casino is in fact a water-based structure.

Both the Hollywood Aurora and Harrah's Joliet casino barges will create the illusion of being land-based, Las Vegas-style casinos. The increased floor space will certainly make it easier for patrons to move around and eliminate some of the cramped gaming quarters. Which brings up another issue:

Illinois casino license holders are restricted as to the number of gaming positions they can have. I'm wondering if the casinos will use their expanded floor space to enhance the comfort of their customers, or if they'll start a campaign to drop the gaming positions restriction? More slot machines and more gaming tables translate into increased gaming revenues. Want to take a guess?

The only other twin-vessel gaming destination in the state is Empress Casino Joliet. Don't be surprised if you hear that operation announce a barge project in the near future.

In conjunction with the Harrah's Joliet expansion announcement, Harrah's East Chicago (Indiana) Casino broke ground for its $47 million, 292-room hotel complex, which is scheduled to celebrate its grand opening in the fall of 2001.

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