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MIDWEST BLACKJACK REPORT

by John Grochowski

John Grochowski is a blackjack expert and a well-known and respected casino gambling columnist. His syndicated casino gambling column appears in the Denver Post, Casino City Times, and other newspapers and web sites. Grochowski has written six books on gambling including the "Answer Man" series of books (www.casinoanswerman.com). He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WLS-AM (890) and podcasts are available at http://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

For me, Midwest gaming is a Chicago-centric enterprise, given my home base a little west of Chicago, I'm within easy reach of 11 casinos - 12 if you count two Majestic Star boats in the same harbor as separate casinos. Until recent years, there was a wide range in game quality, driven partly by competition and local conditions, and partly by Indiana gaming regulations that required dealers to stand on all 17s.

But it's a new era, one with a more homogenous mix than we saw just a few years ago. Indiana casinos convinced the state gaming commission that they needed to keep up with market trends, and for the last several years the Hoosier state has permitted H17 games. Just as in the rest of the country, S17 games are mostly confined to high limits.

The scourge of 6-5 blackjack has hit the area, though it's not as common in this region as you'd find in a walk down the Las Vegas Strip.

And for the most part, the lowest table minimums we see are $10, though Majestic Star always has $5 tables under conditions you don't really want to battle.

With moderate traffic, drives of 25 minutes to a hour take me to Grand Victoria in Elgin, Harrah's and Hollywood in Joliet, Hollywood in Aurora and Rivers in Des Plaines on the Illinois side, and Horseshoe in Hammond, Ameristar in East Chicago and Majestic Star I and II on the Indiana side.

When I expand my range a bit, I'm within about an hour and a half of Blue Chip in Michigan City, Indiana; Four Winds in New Buffalo, Michigan; and Potawatomi in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Once a year or so, I also make the 2.5-hour drive to Par-A-Dice in East Peoria, Illinois.

Illinois casinos are limited by law to 1,200 gaming positions, and your options can be tighter here. Of the Illinois casinos within my reach, only Rivers has 20 blackjack tables. Cross over into Indiana, and Horseshoe has more than 50 blackjack tables, and everyone has at least 27, provided you count Majestic Star (24 tables) and Majestic Star II (three tables) and a single entity.

If there's one typical game for the region, it's six decks, H17, double after split. Nearly all are machine shuffled, and you need to be on the watch for continuous shufflers, especially at low limits. There are a few double deck games, and a few more eight-deck games, and you'll occasionally find wrinkles good (late surrender, resplit Aces) and bad (6-5 blackjack payoffs, double downs restricted to hard 9 and 10).

With all that in mind, here's what to expect, in several categories...

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