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Saying Goodbye to Twin Vessel Gaming in the Chicago Area

11 June 2003

Twin vessel gaming properties, which at one time were the dominant style of riverboat gambling in the Chicago-area on the Illinois side, are history.

Empress Casino Joliet, the last holdout in offering its guests a choice of two floating casinos, replaced its sister vessels with a two-level barge facility in May.

A twin riverboat operation was in place at Harrah's Joliet Casino & Hotel until the fall of 2001 when it became the first Illinois gaming operation to unveil a single-level, permanently docked barge. Hollywood Casino in Aurora, which also was a two riverboat facility, followed with a new barge last year.

The Grand Victoria in Elgin was the only single-vessel property. Very soon it will become the only riverboat operation remaining. All four of the gaming destinations in Northwest Indiana maintain the same single vessels they opened with in 1996.

The twin riverboat method of doing gaming business was a product of the cruise schedules and boarding times that Illinois riverboats were mandated by the state to maintain until the dockside "come and go as you please" gaming was introduced. Two vessels permitted the property owners to stagger boarding times and reduce the waiting time for eager gamblers.

Dockside gambling made twin vessel gaming obsolete and inconvenient for guests. The single-level barge operations in place at Harrah's Joliet and Hollywood Aurora have been well received by gamblers looking for a more Las Vegas "feel." There is every indication the new Empress Casino Joliet will receive the same reception.

Originally planned as a $75-million project, the Empress changeover was scaled back to $40-million by its owner, Argosy Gaming Company, in the wake of the increased taxation placed on casinos by the Illinois General Assembly last year.

Even so, the 65,000-square-foot barge will be a welcome site at a property whose sister riverboats, the Empress I and Empress II, have grown a little weary to the eye in the years they've been sitting on the Des Plaines River.

Should Illinois ever lift the restriction of 1,200 gaming positions at each of its casinos, there'll even be room for more slots and table games at the facility. Which brings us to a question: If Illinois casinos are ever given permission to increase their number of gaming positions, is there room for growth at Harrah's Joliet and Hollywood Aurora? I look around at both properties and say no, unless there's some space we cannot see.

In Indiana, where there is no such restriction, Harrah's East Chicago Casino & Hotel is maximizing the profitability of its floor space. Slot machines were added to the foyer areas on each level of the vessel, including a 3-coin Betty Boop quarter progressive that was up to over $45,000 as of last Sunday.

Speaking of Harrah's East Chicago, a tip of the hat for its experiment with $1,000 slot tournaments every Tuesday in June and for the perks and promotions it offers to gamblers age 50 and over with the Young At Heart Club.

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