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Reservations About "Pay to Play" Blackjack

4 March 2009

Reservation Blackjack, a casino exclusive in the Chicago area at Hollywood Casino in Aurora for the past two years, will be coming to Empress Casino in Joliet starting March 1.

Whether or not that's good news or bad news depends upon your perspective about the game and just how often you play.

First, some of the particulars: Reservation Blackjack is geared toward people who prefer lower-stakes tables to the $10, $15 and $25 minimums that are the norm in this market.

For an up-front fee of $20 per hour, payable in advance using a major credit card, you can reserve a seat at a $5 minimum game on the date and at the time of your choosing.

You're paying for the convenience of knowing that you'll be guaranteed a seat at a $5 blackjack game. That price, however, is costly, especially for frequent players and those who take the game and its low house edge seriously.

But there's a niche market for the unusual service, especially among very casual recreational gamblers who attend casinos infrequently. Couples, friends, and small groups of people find Reservation Blackjack attractive because they know they'll be able to play a $5 minimum game when they arrive at the casino.

It's an alternative to walking around the casino floor, searching in vain for an affordable game, or better yet, searching for an open seat or seats at any game.

"We are always looking for ways to improve the Empress experience," said general manager Frank Quigley. "Guests have told us they'd play more blackjack if they could get a seat when they want it at the lower minimum they desire. We also think this is a great opportunity for family and friends to enjoy a night out together on the casino floor."

Penn National Gaming, Inc., which owns both Hollywood and Empress, has given thought to expanding the Reservation Blackjack concept for some time, based upon its success at the Aurora property.

Those interested in the game can call the casino's toll-free line, 1-888-4EMPRESS, and select the date, time and number of seats they wish to reserve. Players must reserve a minimum of one hour, but they have the option of reserving more time based on the number of people in the party.

All reservations are subject to availability and can be placed 30 days in advance. The casino's standard blackjack rules apply.

While it's called Reservation Blackjack, walk-ups who are willing to pay $20 to play are welcome if there's an open seat. Paying and non-paying customers are not mixed at the same table.

If $5 blackjack is your game of choice and you make frequent casino visits, the $20 per hour fee is too big a price to pay when you factor in the economics of the game and the low house edge basic strategy players enjoy.

But for special events for couples and friends, Reservation Blackjack is a convenience worth considering.

CASINO NEWS: Chippendales, starring in the "Ultimate Girls Night Out", are coming to The Venue at Horseshoe Casino Hammond on April 11. Tickets for the 9:30 p.m. performance are on sale for $25.00 and $40.00 at Ticketmaster and www.thevenue-chicago.com.

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