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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.

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Harrah's Sale Creates New Gaming Horizons

19 Jan 2005

By John G. Brokopp

On the surface of things, the proposed sale of Harrah's East Chicago Casino & Hotel to a group of investors led by a limited liability corporation known as Colony Capital would seem to portend a void for fans of gaming in Northwest Indiana.

Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. has been a wonderful steward of the property. They took an operation that originally opened at the site as the Showboat Mardi Gras Casino and transformed it into one of the most attractive and successful riverboat casinos in the Midwest.

Continual reinvestment on behalf of Harrah's brought in a hotel with amenities that rival those of the finest accommodations in downtown Chicago. The company was continually making improvements to the pavilion, the gaming inventory and the vessel itself, having only recently completed a $27-million renovation of the entire facility.

In light of such developments and an apparent interest in holding on to the property, Harrah's was thrust into decision-making mode when it suddenly found itself with an interest in three Indiana riverboats following recent acquisitions and mega-mergers. Indiana State regulations limit ownership to no more than two properties.

First came the deal for Harrah's to acquire Jack Binion's Horseshoe Casino Hammond, which was finalized earlier this year. Next came the proposed merger of gaming giants Harrah's Entertainment and Caesar's Entertainment, a blockbuster that can give Harrah's interest in a third Hoosier riverboat, Caesar's Indiana.

Harrah's corporate executives have opted for the East Chicago property to be the one to go. Although it will still take many months for regulatory investigations to be completed before the sale is finalized, if all goes according to plan it'll no longer be a Harrah's property at some point next year.

Up until Harrah's acquired the Horseshoe, it and East Chicago were competitors. The Horseshoe emerged the consistent market leader in terms of gross revenues, an amazing fact when you consider the superiority in size and comfort level that the Harrah's gaming vessel enjoys.

It's also a fact that the two properties appealed to two separate demographics of gaming fans. The Horseshoe hinged its marketing strategy on the higher end slots and table games players, while Harrah's appealed to a much broader audience by placing an emphasis on nickel slots and other things for average recreational players.

If the corporate might of Harrah's is removed from the East Chicago property as proposed, all of the gaming giant's marketing energies and reinvestment in the Northwest Indiana gaming market will be directed towards the Hammond location. This could create very rewarding opportunities for gamblers and at the same time strengthen the region's reputation as a first class gaming jurisdiction.

A major component of the Horseshoe's popularity is not only the fact it has been branded so successfully to Jack Binion and the strength of his name, image and business philosophy. It also is the closest casino to downtown Chicago of any riverboat property in this region, including Illinois.

Harrah's will likely capitalize on its new opportunity by investing millions of dollars in development, quite possibly including a bigger gaming vessel and the addition of a hotel. The grand opening of the new $50-million parking garage on the site earlier this year under Binion's watch is certainly a tip-off of better things to come.

The Harrah's Total Rewards player's club program is the most powerful marketing tool of its kind in the nation. The company does not want to lose the leverage it exercises in the two-state greater Chicago-area gaming markets by cross-marketing with its sister property in Joliet, Illinois.

One door may close for gaming fans with the pending sale of Harrah's East Chicago, but there's hardly going to be a void. Colony Capital will take over a first rate operation while Harrah's will go to work developing its newly acquired Horseshoe brand. Ultimately, gaming fans will be the winners when that other door swings open.

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at

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