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Where Should I Go to Play Slots?

25 February 2004

By John G. Brokopp

A question I hear all the time is: "Where's the best place to play the slots?" It is very difficult to answer generically. It would be similar to asking a restaurant critic: "Where's the best place to eat?" In both cases, it all depends on your tastes. A gourmet would have to categorize his answer according to different cuisine. Similarly, I have to know what denominations and types of machines you prefer.

Generally speaking, the casinos in Northwest Indiana are presently head and shoulders above the casinos in Illinois when it comes to imaginative, state-of-the-art slot machine product. When's the last time a casino in Illinois has announced a major property renovation, upgrade or slot inventory overhaul?

All the action along these lines is occurring in Northwest Indiana. Harrah's East Chicago Casino & Hotel is in the midst of a $27 million renovation. Jack Binion's Horseshoe Casino Hammond recently completed a major upgrade. The Trump Casino Hotel and Majestic Star in Gary have some of the best slot product in the Chicago area.

Illinois casinos are not to blame for their recent lethargy. They're standing pat with what they have, riding out the storm in Springfield that dumped a burdensome tax on them that quite simply removed all the incentive to invest further capital in the properties.

Another thing: The monthly percentage "hold" reports that the Illinois Gaming Board and the Indiana Gaming Commission release are informative, but the fact of the matter is the variance in percentage from casino to casino are insignificant when it comes to choosing windows of opportunity to play. A few tenths of a percent difference realistically mean next to nothing.

With that said, here are my recommendations for slot players based on your personal preferences:

Penny and Two-Cent Games

This one's a no-brainer. The only casinos in the Chicago-area that have these machines are the Trump and Majestic Star. I'm not particularly a fan of the multi-line video slot machine versions because they pack a high "hold" percentage, and the rate at which people play them can really eat up a bankroll in a hurry. These games are much better to play in Las Vegas where the market is much more competitive. But, they are fun to play. If you're so inclined, Gary is the place to go. The penny multi-play video poker machines also available at Trump and Majestic Star are a much better gamble.

Nickel Games

First, two casinos I would not recommend you play at: The Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin and the Horseshoe Casino Hammond. These casinos cater to a higher-end slot market and the reduced inventory of nickel machines they do have, as compared to the competition in this area, inflates the "hold" percentage.

Harrah's East Chicago and Trump and Majestic Star both pack large inventories of nickel multi-line machines. What's more, they're bringing in the newest games and they give you the most choices. More machines mean you have a better chance of finding higher-percentage payers.

Argosy's Empress Casino & Hotel Joliet and Harrah's Joliet each have a large inventory of nickel games, but the product they offer is getting old. They are badly in need of some of the new games that are coming into the market. Hollywood Casino in Aurora has brought in some (Wild Bear Salmon Run and Turkey Shoot), but they're few and far between.

Next Week: Dime, Quarter, Fifty-cent, Dollar, and the "high roller" Five Dollar and above games.

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.

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