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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Don Barden and Da Coach Make a Winning Team

16 March 2005

Detroit businessman Don H. Barden has never been happy with the status quo, including the Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Indiana, a property that competes in close proximity not only with three other riverboat operations in Northwest Indiana but also with four gaming properties in Illinois.

When Barden first opened the doors to the Majestic Star in the newly conceived Indiana riverboat casino market on June 11, 1996, the vessel was relatively small with room for just 932 slot machines. Just one year later he replaced it with a $50 million, 360-foot long floating showplace with three levels housing more than 1,400 slot machines and 50 table games.

Merely existing in the market wasn't good enough for Barden, nor was competing. He was all about winning. In early 2004, he met Mike Ditka. The two struck up a friendship and soon Ditka was signed on as the Majestic Star's pitchman. It wasn't long after that the Star went from playing .500 in the market to going on a winning streak.

Recent Indiana Gaming Commission statistics reflect the Majestic Star is outpacing the competition in the market in individual growth.

Ditka, who is featured in print, billboard and television advertising, is still revered in the Chicago area, nearly four decades after his Hall of Fame pro football career with the Chicago Bears and 19 years after leading the Monsters of the Midway as head coach to a smashing victory in Super Bowl XX.

He is the high-profile owner of a popular Rush Street restaurant and lounge that bears his name, and just recently he became a co-owner of the Chicago Rush in the Arena Football League. Last year the Illinois Republican Party even wanted him to run for the United States Senate.

The Majestic Star competes with the Horseshoe Hammond, the runaway market leader, in the best odds/highest limits war. The Star offers 100-times odds and a $50,000 maximum bet at its craps tables. Theres also a $50,000 limit at the property's nine baccarat tables and a $10,000 max bet at the blackjack tables in the remodeled high limit Monte Carlo room.

"I have a philosophy," Therrin Protze, Senior Director of Operations, said. "Don't sweat the money. Let's play. Were in the gambling business. I have no issues with taking on that kind of play. A lot of casinos have gotten away from accepting the big action, but in my estimation that's what this industry is really all about."

Average players are not forgotten either. The Star opens five dollar tables in the main area every Monday through Friday from 7 am until 7 pm.

The property caters to slot players as well. During the last year and half, more than 1,200 new gaming devices have been moved in, which literally has converted the casino into a trendsetter in the newest, freshest and boldest technology.

"Our goal is to give players choices, so they don't have to search around for a machine," Protze said. "We want our guests to play what they want to play. We offer 1-2-5, 2-5-10 and 5-10-25 multi-denominational games. Multi-denom is mostly coming out in video, but I think reel players are just as important and should have just as many choices. We also are proud to offer a wide selection of games from different manufacturers. I also look for out-of-the-box ideas. We've got some really neat things coming this year. Once they are approved, they will really light up the floor."

The conversation with executives from the Majestic Star Casino will continue next week.

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