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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Harrah's Joliet Responds to Pressure from NW Indiana

28 September 2005

Joe Domenico, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah's Joliet Casino & Hotel, knows what it's like to operate from both sides of the highly competitive greater Chicagoland gambling market

Prior to being appointed to his current post last year, he served in a similar capacity at Harrah's East Chicago, where he oversaw a $27 million renovation and improvement project that took place in the pavilion and on board the vessel.

Most recently he was the architect of what he describes as a much needed "facelift" of the Joliet property in an effort to remain competitive with the Northwest Indiana gaming market, which attracts thousands of Illinois residents each day.

"If you look within Illinois, we are probably in the most competitive sector in the state," Domenico said. "We have some very strong competitors in our neighboring state, including Horseshoe Hammond. Even though it's a sister property it still can draw business from Illinois as does Resorts, Trump and Majestic.

"We are the only casino in Illinois that has another casino right in the same city (Argosy's Empress Joliet). When you look at the Joliet market combined with Northwest Indiana you essentially have six properties in close proximity. You have to stay competitive and you've got to invest in your product."

The recent improvements at Harrah's Joliet include a revitalization of the slot machine inventory, the introduction of overhead plasma TV's throughout the casino floor, a remodeled pavilion, a new VIP player's lounge and a new bar and snack shop in the casino.

"Reaction from our players to the new Diamond Lounge, named The Reserve, has been fantastic," Domenico said. "We've had record numbers of customers going through there, almost twice as many as before. We added a bar, plasma screens, a much improved food line that serves throughout the day beginning at noon, as well as private bathrooms for our guests.

"The improved pavilion brings the whole facility together. We have a great hotel product which we linked with the casino, whereas before we really were divided into different sectors. Now we have a seamless walkway through the facility, which is setting the stage for some future improvements that we're going to make to the food, beverage and lounge offerings. This was the Phase One. Hopefully if everything moves forward and we get opportunities within the state of Illinois, we'll continue to invest capital."

Domenico is well aware that Illinois does not play on equal footing with the casinos in Northwest Indiana. Properties in Illinois are restricted to 1,200 gaming positions while there is no such restriction imposed on Indiana riverboats.

"We want to order the best state-of-the-art gaming product that customers want," he said, "but it's difficult because 'the box' is only so big. There's always that when you want to put something new in, it's not going to be better than what you took out. There are still a great many guests who want to play reel-type games and we want to be able to satisfy them as well, so it becomes a very, very difficult situation.

"The other front is when you look at our table business. Additions come at the expense of the table offering. That's unfortunate because I think there's a great market out there for table business in Illinois, but reality from an economic standpoint is that a slot machine is going to win over a table game unless you have enough gaming positions where you can offer both."

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