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Harrah's Joliet Ushers in New Era

28 November 2001

A new era in casino gambling in the state of Illinois was officially ushered in by gaming giant Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. with a gala ribbon cutting ceremony for the new permanently moored barge it constructed in Joliet, the first facility of its kind in this state.

The stage for the grand opening of the one-level, 40,000 square-foot casino built at a cost of $82 million, was set by legislation passed on June 25, 1999 that permitted Illinois riverboat casino license holders to conduct dockside gambling.

The original Riverboat Gambling Act of 1990 required that license holders maintain cruise schedules. When that requirement was eliminated, "sea-worthy" gambling vessels became obsolete. The new barge at Harrah's Joliet replaces the Southern Star II and its sister ship, the Northern Star.

The new facility is actually two luxury barges fitted together to form a single-level casino that is the closest Chicago-area gamblers will ever come to a true Las Vegas-style gambling experience. From the inside, patrons are made completely unaware they are in a water-based structure. It has the feeling and look of a permanent land-based casino.

One of the Harrah's dignitaries on hand for the October 18 grand opening celebration was Philip Satre, chairman and CEO of the company.

"Up to now, gambling in the state of Illinois meant riverboat gambling," Satre said during remarks to journalists, business executives, and Joliet City officials, including Mayor Shultz. "Well, there ain't no riverboat out there! It's a casino."

The entire gaming experience at Harrah's Joliet has been transformed. The newly constructed entrance to the casino has the appearance of a land-based property. The brightly lit marquee gives guests a true Las Vegas-style visual greeting. Once inside you walk directly into the casino because there is no need for the traditional boarding area that the riverboats required.

The casino proper includes a big new full-service cashier's cage, a high-limit gaming room, a section dedicated to nickel slots, a bar with inset video poker machines, the usual table games, and a wide variety of traditional reel and the popular new video slots. There's a nice selection of video poker, including quarter and dollar "Triple Play Machines", and quarter and dollar banks of progressives.

The new facility has no stairs to climb or escalators to ride. The interior is bright, airy, and clean with high ceilings and a new air filtration system that eliminates the hanging cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke. There is much more room to roam.

Since Illinois casino license holders are limited (at least at this time) to 1,200 gaming positions, the additional floor space means more comfort room for players. If that law is ever lifted, you can bet more slots, video poker, and tables will be added to the floor mix.

In addition to the new casino, Harrah's has also opened a new, 250-seat restaurant called the Union Station Buffet, and a new six-level parking garage with space for 1,000 cars. The garage is linked to the main casino via a two-story climate controlled walkway. Van Buren's Steak House and the popular Winning Streaks Café complete the property's dining options.

"When Harrah's opened this property in 1993, it was our first riverboat casino, only our seventh gaming property, and our first outside of the states of Nevada and New Jersey," Satre said. "Today Harrah's operates 25 casinos in the United States. I can truthfully say that this property has been a catalyst not only for the City of Joliet but also for Harrah's Entertainment."

It's difficult to remember today, but less than 10 years ago the land that the new casino, entertainment complex, and 250-room luxury hotel that now stands was occupied by a used car lot and a bait and tackle shop!

The next Chicago-area gaming property to replace its existing riverboats with a permanent barge will be Hollywood Casino in Aurora. The grand opening is set for early next year.

Empress Casino Joliet and the Grand Victoria in Elgin have as yet announced no barge construction plans.

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