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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Hoosier Picks for Best Blackjack

24 March 2004

This column's mission to analyze the "State of Blackjack" in the Chicago area by targeting the best casinos to play the game and why. We determined last week that Argosy's Empress Casino in Joliet beats out the competition on the Illinois side for player-friendly rules. Harrah's Joliet came in a close second. The Grand Victoria in Elgin and the Hollywood in Aurora were clearly not on the same plateau as the Joliet properties.

Now it's time to shift our attention to the casinos in Northwest Indiana. Even though they are in a different state, their proximity to major population centers in Illinois make them part of a Chicago-area survey. Today the spotlight will be on Jack Binion's Horseshoe Casino in Hammond and Harrah's East Chicago. Next week we'll take a look at the Majestic Star and the Trump Casino & Hotel in Gary.

We can start out by confirming that the Horseshoe and Harrah's East Chicago are uniform in many player-friendly categories. For example, both casinos allow players to double down on any two cards and double down after splitting. The dealers at both casinos stand on soft 17. Neither casino uses continuous shuffling or automatic shuffling machines. All games are hand shuffled.

Gamblers on a budget will be happy to learn that both casinos offer $5 minimum games. The best time to catch a "nickel" game at the Horseshoe is before noon on weekdays. At Harrah's there are $5 games available before 11:00 a.m. Harrah's, however, offers a nice perk by "grand-fathering" all $5 plays into games when the minimum is raised to $10 or higher.

The availability of $5 games in the morning is important to many people, especially seniors. In Illinois you can't find a $5 game at any time at Argosy's Empress, Harrah's Joliet, and Hollywood. Only the Grand Victoria offers $5 games on select weekday mornings.

The Horseshoe and Harrah's East Chicago are also uniform in one player-hostile rule. Neither casino allows players to re-split aces, the same as at the Grand Victoria and Hollywood. Argosy's Empress and Harrah's Joliet allow players to re-split aces up to four hands.

Now for some differences: All 24 blackjack tables at Harrah's East Chicago use 6-deck shoes, which gives them the edge in this category. The 21-table inventory at the Horseshoe features a majority of 6-deck shoes, but there are some 8-deck tables, primarily in the lower limit sector, to be on the lookout for. You can always check with the dealer.

As for the all-important penetration factor, give the edge to the Horseshoe. Dealers there deal cards until there's about a deck and a half remaining in the shoe. Dealers at Harrah's East Chicago will stop to shuffle up when there are about two decks remaining.

If you happen to be a high roller, the Horseshoe also gets the advantage with a limit of up to $10,000, double what's permitted at Harrah's East Chicago.

As for the promotion side of the equation, the tip of the hat goes to Harrah's. The casino offers random "hot seat" giveaways nine times a day at its blackjack games where players can win 500 bonus reward player's club credits. They also have bi-weekly $3,000 Wild Wednesday Blackjack Tournaments starting at 7:00 p.m. with the winner earning $1,500 cash. Interested players can register anytime throughout the month with a table games representative. Registration is limited to the first 60 sign-ups.

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