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A friendly report from the field in the Chicago-land area.

We're pretty much mid-way between Vegas and Atlantic City, but we've got some player favorable casinos in the area. Moreover, a brand new casino (managed by Midwest Gaming) is scheduled to open in summer 2011.

Two well established casinos in the area are Horseshoe Casino in Hammond (Whiting), IN, and Harrah's Casino in Joliet, IL. Both offer baccarat, and of course, blackjack.

I'll post overviews and some of my thoughts about these casinos in the following threads.

If you're planning to visit some time, let me know, and it would be a pleasure to play a few shoes together.

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Harrah's Casino, Joliet, IL

Overview:

- Non-smoking in the entire casino. (By law, all places open to the public in IL are smoke-free. There is a special "Smoker's Club" lounge in the casino for smokers.)

- Baccarat: only 1 table, a mini-baccarat table in the high-limit pit. It is located in a relatively secluded and quiet part of the casino towards the rear of the main pit. There are 10 seats at the table, and the seats are quite comfortable and plosh. No over-the-top betting is allowed: you must have a seat at the table to bet.

- Tote board: standard, vertical tote board showing the results of the last dozen or so hands.

- Shuffle: after every shoe, the cards are hand-washed, separated into several piles, which are shuffled individually, and a player at the table cuts the final stack with the yellow card. (No shuffle machines.) After the cut, the dealer's final yellow card insertion is usually very deep (last 10 cards or so). Burn cards are dealt face-up.

- Table limits: during low volume times, it is $25 min/$5,000 max. These can go up substantially during high volume times. (A dealer told me that once during a streak of 36 bankers, they had to keep raising the limits to control the betting. Security had to refill the chip rack several times during that record run.)

- Sample Shoes I've played recently (1. and 2. are not full shoes, as I hit my target & ran):

1. B143615163213111253

2. P121426112131123131

3. P23223222115121113312311112112211314

- Hours: the casino is open from 8 AM to 6 AM, but the mini-baccarat table opens around noonish. They start preparing the table at 12 PM, and it is available to play around 12:30 PM.

- Volume: most busy Friday evenings, Saturday, and Sunday (weekends). During the weekdays, it can vary from an empty to a full table.

- Dealers & Staff: very nice, polite, courteous, pleasant, even jovial. They're happy to talk to you and answer any questions about anything. They are human, though, and I've caught them making mistakes sometimes, such as forgetting to pay out, dropping cards on the floor, or updating the tote incorrectly.

- Comps: Harrah's Total Rewards

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Horseshoe Casino, Hammond (Whiting), IN

Overview:

- Smoking is allowed in the entire casino. A couple of mini-baccarat tables are designated non-smoking, but they are situated in a corner of the main baccarat annex, which can get quite smoky, especially during peak hours.

- Baccarat: an entire annex is devoted to baccarat, and even an additional sub-annex next to the main baccarat annex to handle overflow. The large arena is decorated like a Chinese pavilion, obviously to cater to the 90% Asian players there. (Chicago's Chinatown is minutes away.) Even the dealers wear Chinese vests to look the part. The beverage hostesses wear full Chinese dresses. There are about 20 tables, mostly for mini-baccarat, a few big baccarat, and a few EZ-baccarat. Over-the-top betting and on-the-top betting of another player's bet is allowed.

- Tote boards: big and mini-baccarat tables have the standard, vertical tote board showing the results of the last dozen or so hands. EZ-baccarat uses computer LCD displays to show the entire history of the shoe in the horizontal method (a new column for each P/B switch).

- Shuffle: after a machine shuffle, a player cuts the cards with the yellow card. Dealer's final cut is usually deep (last 10 cards or so). Burn cards are dealt face down.

- Table limits: $10 min/$100,000 max (yes: $100,000 max!). Some higher minimum tables are $25+/min. But all tables are $100,000 max.

- Sample Shoes I've played recently (full shoes):

1: B211114225211158222142112112113141121

2: P11111111211231111213111712121115113213132213

3: P3112211155231211211222431111321114112211

- Hours: open 24 hours a day, year-round.

- Volume: It starts getting busy in the early afternoon. In the evenings and weekends, they open up the sub-annex where there's at least 5 more tables to accommodate the volume . Even early in the morning, there are at least 5 active tables. I can tell some players are there all through the night. Most of the players are actually not sitting, but wandering around the room, searching for whatever trigger they're hunting (usually anything streaky, as a popular strategy seems to be to follow runs).

Since over-the-top and on-the-top betting is permitted, two to three times the number of seated players can be betting at a "hot" table, and then the shoe's progress becomes glacial. An average shoe takes more than 2 hours to complete. I once played for 7 straight hours, only to complete 3 full shoes. If you're one of the standing players, be sure to bring your shoulder-pads, since you get jostled and pushed around a lot by players rushing from one table to the next. (Here, baccarat is a full-contact sport!) If you're one of the seated players, get used to seeing arms reaching over and to each side of your head. There's usually nearly empty tables available, though they have higher minimum limits ($25+).

Also, the whole arena can become pretty much a gas chamber during peak hours, because many players are chain-smoking smoke stacks.

- Dealers & Staff: some are nice, some are not-so-nice. One barks at the table if new bets are placed before the old bets have been paid off. Others don't mind. Some reject bets after "No more bets" is announced. Others allow last-second bets even while the cards are about to be drawn. (Some players like to place their bets at the very last possible micro-second.) Some dealers are nice, pleasant, and professional. Others yawn a lot, bark a lot, and look like they'd really rather be doing something else.

- Comps: Harrah's Total Rewards. Pit-bosses are generally overseeing 2 tables each, so if you play around at different tables around the arena, hand over your comp card again to be rated there.

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  • Baccarat Hall of Fame Member

Dave-

Fair and comprehensive observations about both ...could put your review up on the Travel Channel and draw a few more players to the Horseshoe, ha! Watching the Raiders/Cowboys preseason game, and a few of those guys could learn more about shoulder pads from the more veteran Horseshoe stalwarts...I play about every other week in Chicago or Milwaukee area, so PM me kachatz@treomanagement.com and let's get together if you'd like. Maybe next weekend after this and we can compare notes. I have found both casinos to be a mix of C/S, with no clear bias...I have to admit I actually enjoy over-the-top play, especially since I do not care about ratings/comps/etc. but U R right, a game can take f.o.r.e.v.e.r @ The Shoe.

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