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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Harrah's Joliet Sets the Stage for All New Look

2 March 2005

Gaming industry behemoth Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. is in the process of implementing an aggressive business plan in the Chicago area/Northwest Indiana gaming market as the time draws closer for the sale of its East Chicago property to be finalized, probably during the second or third quarter of 2005.

In light of recent changes and upgrades to its Joliet, Illinois, location, the company is obviously preparing for the day when it will no longer have a Harrah's branded destination in Northwest Indiana. Its marketing power will be shifted to Joliet as well as to strengthening the Horseshoe branded property in Hammond, which it assumed control of earlier this year.

There have been many changes made to the slot inventory at Harrah's Joliet during the last few months as well as to the look of the gaming floor itself. The property had been a classic underachiever in the market for a while, a condition brought on by the 70 percent tax burden thrust upon Illinois' most successful riverboat casino operations.

With the prospect of tax relief coming during mid-2005 and the aforementioned business strategy, Harrah's executives are targeting the Joliet location for development as a means to maintain the strong presence it has in this area with its Total Rewards player's club as well as to shake the property out of the doldrums and increase market share.

Fran Fehrenbach, the Director of Slot Operations for Harrah's Joliet, outlined some of the changes that have been introduced to the slot inventory as well as announcing some exciting news for video poker players:

"Recently we removed all of our old Williams Gaming 550 Series units (Cash Crop, Hot Toppings, Yukon Gold, etc.) and upgraded them to the new 'Bluebird' platform," Fehrenbach said. "This has been really well received. It also gave us the opportunity to introduce some penny and two-cent product. We're going to continue to watch that product and if it's popular and profitable then we'll certainly continue to focus on that area as well.

"We're introducing multi-denomination capability on all those games, so even on the one-cent games you can play them in two-cent and five-cent units. In the two-cent base games you can play them in two, five and ten-cent units."

Later this week, a dedicated low-denomination slot area will be unveiled at the location where the majority of the casino's video poker machines were housed.

Williams Gaming's "Bluebird Platform" comes with enhanced video technology and BOSE audio systems in the state-of-the-art cabinets designed for the comfort of players.

The popularity of the games, particularly in the low denomination variety, is undeniable. During an early evening visit to the casino last week, I observed nearly all of the machines were being played. One lucky player even created a great deal of excitement when he cashed out nearly a quarter of million credits on a two-cent "Lil' Lucy" machine, which amounted to just under $5,000.

"Those 'Lil' Lucy' games are extremely popular with our guests because the machines give players a lot of action in bonus activity," Fehrenbach confirmed.

There also some big changes being introduced regarding video poker at Harrah's Joliet, which is a market leader in that area of gambling.

"We relocated our video poker from where it was at the front of the casino to the former nickel room area in the back in order to create a more intimate feel," Fehrenbach revealed. "Not crowded, but a more defined dedicated video poker area. We have real strong video poker business and we wanted to make sure we gave our guests the best experience possible.

"In conjunction with this move, we've enhanced the dollar Double-Double Bonus progressives. Whereas the quarter progressive is coming over as is, the dollar progressive is being expanded to a five-level progressive without altering the pay tables. The Royal Flush is still the top-paying progressive, but we've added progressives for four of a kind in aces, twos, threes and fours with the kicker card.

"The jackpots will still reset to the base amount ($2,000 for aces and $800 for the others), but now a portion of the money that is played is going to those incremental meters as well so they have a greater earning potential for players when they do hit. We also have introduced a quarter jokers wild progressive and a quarter deuces wild progressive."

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