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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Hammond Casino Now Horseshoe Quality

25 July 2001

It is remarkable how every riverboat casino destination in the Chicago-area has acquired its own "personality", not only in terms of the vessels themselves but also in regard to the pavilions that house the restaurants, lounges, and entryways to the boats.

Harrah's in Joliet, for example, has a Mardi Gras party motif, while its sister property in East Chicago has taken on a Bourbon Street-New Orleans atmosphere.

The Hollywood Casino in Aurora is known for its accent on Hollywood and museum-quality collection of movie props, artifacts, and memorabilia. To its north, the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin possesses a multi-dimensional mix of the glory days of railroading and the Elgin Watch Company.

The Majestic Star and Trump Casinos in Gary are unique in the market in that they share the same pavilion in Buffington Harbor. Further east, the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana has a resort quality to it, a reflection of the area in which it's situated.

The Empress Casinos are in the process of undergoing some major image changes. Under the terms of a recent Illinois Gaming Board edict, the Empress Joliet is about to be sold. Its counterpart in Indiana, Empress Hammond, will soon become Binion's Horseshoe Hammond.

At this juncture it is impossible to say whether the new Joliet owner will retain the Egyptian motif and Middle East accent which have been the trademarks since it opened. It's a sure bet, however, that the Empress Hammond has abandoned the "King Neptune" décor it debuted with in 1996. The transformation has already taken place.

If you haven't been to Empress Hammond lately, it is worth revisiting just to see how rapidly change can occur. Gone are the fountains and the aquatic statuary in the pavilion. Gone is the restaurant and buffet the way they existed when the property first opened its doors.

In many cases change for the sake of change does not necessarily mean change for the better, but in the case of the Hammond riverboat casino it most certainly does. What's happening there is that Jack Binion is bringing his Horseshoe Gaming brand of casino entertainment to the property.

What exactly does this mean? If you've ever made a trip to Las Vegas and had the opportunity to visit the famed Horseshoe in the downtown section when Jack Binion still ran it, you know exactly what I'm talking about: It was a classic no frills gambling hall with the best odds, the best games, and the best food.

After Binion left to run his own Horseshoe Gaming Company, the Las Vegas Horseshoe was never the same. Dollar craps with 100-times odds gave way to three-dollar tables with 10-times odds. The quaint little coffee shop downstairs that served the best soup and best steaks at the best prices closed. It took only a few short years for the Binion tradition to be totally eradicated.

Fortunately for gaming fans in the Chicago-area, the Binion tradition is being revived in Hammond, Indiana. The aquatic theme is giving way to what best can be described as "simple elegance." The pavilion area is being re-carpeted, the buffet made bigger and better with the best dessert station in the market, and the restaurant remodeled, revitalized, and renamed.

If you like restaurants with fine wood paneling, linen tablecloths, and that overall aura of richness and class, Binion's Steakhouse is worth a visit. The service is great, the food outstanding, and the prices are well within reason for a restaurant of similar quality.

On the vessel itself the floor space has been re-configured in selected areas and the slot machine product and selection enhanced. In the months ahead I look for many more improvements and upgrades in Hammond, including (hopefully) a bigger selection of video poker machines as the Binion influence takes hold.

Got a question or comment about gaming? Write to me at the Daily Southtown, 6901 W. 159th Street, Tinley Park, Ill., 60477, fax to 708-447-7002, or e-mail jgbjet@ameritech.net.

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