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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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What Horseshoe Sale Means to Gamblers

7 December 2003

The Horseshoe Casino in Hammond occupies a unique position in the Chicago area. In spite of operating with no hotel amenities and a space-challenged 3-floor vessel that has been rendered obsolete in a mature gaming market, the property has evolved into one of the most successful riverboat destinations in the country.

It opened under the Empress Casino brand in 1996 when riverboat gaming was legalized in the state of Indiana. Aided by the fact it is the closest casino destination to downtown Chicago, the property was an immediate hit. But it wasn't until Horseshoe Gaming LLC acquired it a few years ago that things really took off.

The casino will change hands for a third time early next year when Harrah's Entertainment Inc. will take over ownership along with Horseshoe Gaming's two other riverboat properties in Tunica, Mississippi and Shreveport, Louisiana.

The sale gives Harrah's a dominant presence in this market. The gaming giant already owns properties in Joliet, Illinois, and East Chicago, Indiana. Hammond will give Harrah's a powerful 1-2-3 punch that will turn the company's aggressive direct-mail and promotion bandwagon into a veritable war wagon.

But how successful will a saturated Harrah's presence in Chicago-area gambling really be? Harrah's Total Rewards program is enormously popular with gaming fans. Having three locations in the same jurisdiction where guests can earn and build equity on their player's cards will prove a powerful lure.

However, it is the true spirit of competition among business owners, an economic principle made legendary by the fabled Gimbals-Macys department store feud in New York City, which ultimately benefits consumers. That same principle, I argue, holds true in the casino gambling industry.

Horseshoe Gaming CEO Jack Binion brought with him a grassroots gambling business philosophy and assembled a quality team of industry-proven professionals to implement that philosophy and elevate the Hammond, Ind. Riverboat casino destination to the pedestal it currently occupies.

The Rio Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas enjoyed similar success under the leadership of owner-developer Anthony Marnel in the mid-80s. Located five minutes from The Strip on Flamingo Boulevard, The Rio went from being an upscale yet little known "locals" property to the premier, most talked about, casino-hotel in Vegas.

When Harrah's Entertainment bought the Rio a few years ago, it made the mistake of stripping away too much of what made the property unique in the market and painted over with a generic corporate makeover. The result? The Rio went downhill, revenues plunged, and soon the much sought after Vegas "in crowd" and high rollers which had previously made the Rio their home had moved to Mandalay Bay.

Even though the Rio has managed a recovery to fiscal soundness and corporate profitability by marketing to a broader data base of casino gamblers, it has never regained the mystique, popularity and unique appeal it enjoyed under Marnel's ownership.

Jack Binion and his executive staff brought a similar mystique to the Horseshoe Casino Hammond. The "golden horseshoe" has become the single most recognizable casino brand in the Chicago-area. Marketing the name, face, and voice of Jack Binion himself has capitalized on the legacy of a famous gaming family by making the "legendary" theme a self-fulfilling marketing strategy.

Average casino fans can relate to Binion. He brings a hands-on, personal quality that no other casino company in the world can imitate. Picking up where Binion leaves off, building and enhancing what he has already done, will be the best thing that Harrah's can do.

Harrah's has already announced intentions to preserve the Horseshoe brand in Hammond. More important, they should stick by the old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". If Harrah's strengthens what the Horseshoe Casino Hammond is all about, the entire market, including gaming fans, will benefit.

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