Roll up your sleeves and blow on your dice – it’s time to get lucky at our region’s many casino destinations. See a few of them below.
Gambling isn’t reserved for Sin City anymore. It’s all around us. And there’s something about those flashing lights and giant jackpots that make some people want to go wild.
But whether you’re a high roller looking to score big and blow it all, or a low roller just looking for some fun, it’s important to know that local casinos offer a lot more than games. Many are full-amenity resorts, with dining, hotel and banquet spaces available. Casinos aren’t for everyone, but those who enjoy the thrilling atmosphere have plenty of options around the Old Northwest Territory. And each casino offers a distinct personality.
Before You Roll
By law, casino guests must be at least 21 years old in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. Casinos are still forbidden in 13 states.
Midwestern states were among the first to sanction casinos, and have some of the top gambling destinations. Chicagoland is the highest-grossing casino market outside Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J. It’s followed closely by Detroit and St. Louis.
Each state licenses casinos differently. All casinos in Illinois are commercially-owned and operated on riverboats. Wisconsin’s are owned and operated by 11 American Indian tribes; Iowa allows a combination of commercial and tribal casinos.
Legal gambling is a cash cow. In 2009, casinos nationwide raked in $30.74 billion and returned about $5.59 billion in state taxes, according to the American Gaming Association. By that group’s count, nearly a quarter of the United States’ adult population – 61.7 million people – visited a casino in 2009. That same year, Illinois brought in almost $500 million in casino taxes. Nationwide, casinos employ some 328,000 people.
Each location offers unique games, with a combination of slot machines, table games, video machines, giveaways, prizes and live entertainment. Some casinos are connected to hotels; others offer stay-and-play packages so you can save your cash for the casino floor. Frequent visitors can join a player’s club for more deals on hotels, meals and entertainment – as well as special access to exclusive lounges and events. Player’s club members also can access specials at many casino restaurant. Each location offers a variety of dining choices, from quick dinners and all-you-can-eat buffets to sophisticated steakhouses.
Many casino destinations are branching out, selling themselves as prime retreats for corporate events, weddings and large-scale occasions.
So roll up your sleeves and blow on your dice – It’s time to get lucky.
1855 Greyhound Park Drive, Dubuque, Iowa
Mystique is not a typical casino in its business model. Whereas competitors send profits back to investors, Mystique sends profits to the people of Dubuque.
“Mystique is a not-for-profit casino,” says Brandy Welter, marketing manager. “All of the money that is brought in is given back to the community.”
Opened as a nonprofit greyhound park in 1985, with the addition of a casino in 1995, Mystique has returned more than $157 million in grants to charities and city projects through the Dubuque Racing Association, which oversees operation of the casino. It’s good-cause gambling.
Greyhounds are still a main draw, racing from May through October. Even when there aren’t races in Duqubue, guests can place bets on other dog and horse races broadcast there from tracks around the country.
Meanwhile, the casino offers a wide variety of table games and slot machines. The nearly 1,000 slot machines are touted as “the loosest in Dubuque,” and the table games include five types of poker. The poker parlor offers daily tournaments and progressive jackpots.
“I like to watch craps,” says Welter. “Everyone is betting. It’s not like you’re a team, but everyone has a goal. If I’m rolling, everyone wants the exact same thing I want.”
The atmosphere at Mystique is distinctly French, a nod to Dubuque’s early settlers. “We use the fleur de lis, scripts, typing, and lots of French names,” says Welter. “Our motto is ‘Mystique, Magnifique.’ Dubuque is known for being founded by the French, and there are lots of French people around the area, so it carries a great image of our community.”
Entertainment at Mystique is free, and includes bands, singers and biweekly comedy clubs. Dining options include a deli, buffet and the upscale Champagne restaurant, where diners are treated to a French-inspired menu that includes steak, seafood and wine.
Guests also find a family-friendly option at Houlihan’s, located in the Hilton Garden Inn adjacent to the casino. Stay-and-play deals are always available, and player’s club members can earn discounts – even free rooms – when they book a stay. The Allure Club offers birthday specials, free valet service, hotel shuttles, and access to the exclusive Allure Lounge, for really high-rollers.
Mystique awards some big jackpots. Recent winners walked away with $31,000.
Located on an island in the Mississippi River, Mystique is easily accessible from Dubuque and about 20 miles from Galena, Ill., which is rich with its own attractions, ambiance and natural beauty.
“Just being in the tri-state area is great,” says Welter. “Guests can be in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin all within 10 minutes. It’s a great location, and we attract a lot of people from all over the region.” ♣
Wild Rose Casino
777 Wild Rose Dr., Clinton, Iowa
One of Iowa’s first land-based casinos, Wild Rose offers a wide variety of games in a smaller, more intimate setting with Prairie style ambiance. Good things can come in small packages, and the casino offers big prizes and a luxurious getaway.
“Wild Rose has a warm and comfy feeling to it, with great design features,” says Maureen Roushar, marketing manager. “It’s different from what you’ll see at other locations. This feels more traditional and homey.”
The casino includes 577 slot machines, with a wide choice of progressive slots that lead to bigger jackpots. Or, check out the 14 different table games, including blackjack, craps, roulette and Texas Hold ’Em. For Wild Times Club members, there’s also a chance to win big on Saturday nights. Past prizes include Energy-Star appliances, snow blowers, vacations and cash.
“You can win point multipliers and Wild Rose Bucks, which are redeemable for play at any of our games,” says Roushar. “We give away all sorts of prizes, right up to $100 on a spin, so you’ll always get something.”
Wild Times Club members can get other deals on food, extra play and hotel stays. Wild Rose’s 60-room hotel is attached to the casino, and includes six luxury suites for a long weekend getaway. Stay-and-play packages are always available, and during warm months, guests can also get special deals to the nearby Clinton Country Club at The Oaks.
Along with the hotel, Wild Rose boasts a variety of spaces for entertainment, business meetings and weddings. The Oakwood Grand Ballroom holds up to 800 concertgoers, and includes catering for up to 500 diners. All around the hotel, casino and restaurants, the architecture recalls Iowa’s prairie landscape.
“The building reflects a rich style in the history of Clinton, Iowa,” says Roushar. “The blueprint was researched by Vegas architects who brought local flavor. The building is inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright with Prairie style architecture.”
Gamers find weekend specials and relaxed dining at two restaurants. The buffet includes specials like the Friday fish fry or the Saturday night Surf-n-Turf. Inside the Coaches Corner Sports Bar & Grill, diners can watch any of the 42 TVs stationed around the restaurant and at every booth. Daily breakfasts are served, as are a variety of sandwiches, steaks and entrees.
So what makes casinos and gambling a fun weekend getaway? The thrill of hitting a big jackpot, says Roushar, who enjoys taking her chances on slot machines.
“It’s fun! Are you kidding me?” she says. “There’s always a chance to win more than what you came in with. You’ll get great service at Wild Rose, and we’re a value, with our stay-and-play packages. We’re not the biggest, but when you put together the games and the selection and the rewards, we feel we are the best value in Eastern Iowa.” ♣
Madison: 4002 Evan Acres Road, Madison, Wis.
Wisconsin Dells: S3214 Hwy. 12, Baraboo, Wis.
Ho-Chunk gamers have a lot of options; the American Indian nation operates six casinos around Wisconsin. The biggest attractions, in Baraboo and Madison, have something for everyone.
In Baraboo, the colorful casino floor includes a variety of slot machines and table games, such as blackjack blast, baccarat and several types of poker. The 600-seat bingo hall is a big draw, as is the off-track betting.
Because the Baraboo casino is in the Wisconsin Dells, it’s a resort destination, with something for the entire family. No, the kids aren’t allowed to gamble, but while parents play their adult games, kids enjoy the Kids Quest playground. Children are welcomed at the attached hotel.
The nearly 300-room hotel debuts its updated look this spring, and boasts high-class suites and space for banquets or other large-scale events. It’s a busy place for live entertainment and big-name acts like Leann Rimes.
Farther south, the Ho-Chunk Madison has a simpler collection of games. Formerly known as Dejope casino, the main attractions are slots, bingo and poker, all on high-tech machines.
“There’s no bingo hall anymore; it’s all on machines,” says Dave Abangan, director of marketing for the Madison location. “There are 1,100 bingo machines here. It’s the newest way to play.”
Bingo and slots are totally automated, and gamers always play against other gamers on the floor. The poker room, opened last fall, is also high-tech, with e-poker tables that virtually deal cards and handle chips. Players have an individual screen showing their cards, and share a central video screen that displays the house’s cards.
“It’s really cool technology, and actually, it increases the rate of play,” says Abangan. “You can play more hands and there’s no shuffling or waiting around for the dealer to handle cards.”
Live entertainment is free, and the stage is located right on the casino floor. Popular acts include Elvis and Beatles tribute bands, as well as cover bands.
Ho-Chunk gamers at all locations have plenty of chances to win. By late February of this year, gamers at Ho-Chunk Madison had jackpotted $11 million. During prize nights, the odds grow that guests will take something home.
“We like to have a lot of winners,” says Abangan. “In our large promotion nights, we like to give away 30 different prizes. When you’ve got 30-to-one odds that you’re going home with something, even if it’s not a car, you’re still going home happy.”
No matter the location, Rewards Club members can use their cards for extra play, and earn discounts on meals and hotel stays in Baraboo.
“Our players club is like Chuck E. Cheese’s,” says Abangan. “You earn tickets and then you get a stuffed animal, except our prizes are more grown-up.” ♣
Grand Victoria Casino
250 S. Grove Ave., Elgin, Ill.
Appropriate to its name and the crowns spotted around its premises, Grand Victoria gives its customers the royal treatment. Moored at an Elgin, Ill., dock, the riverboat casino looks like something straight out of history. But if Wild West showboats come to mind, with whiskey-guzzling patrons, your mind has gone down the wrong path.
“You’ve got to see it for yourself,” says Marilou Pilman, marketing manager. “That image couldn’t be farther from the truth. There’s no Wild west out here.” Instead, Tiffany chandeliers and coffered ceilings accentuate the boat’s posh décor. All of the Grand Victoria’s gaming is on the boat, with a casino floor stretching 400 by 100 feet.
The boat includes more than 1,100 slot machines and 33 table games including blackjack, roulette, poker and craps. Downstairs in the poker room, players find no-limit games of Texas Hold ‘Em. It’s always gambling time – the boat is open 22 hours a day.
Table games are among greatest crowd-pleasers. “Craps players are a loud, exciting bunch,” she says. “We have great slot games and we have several themes that are popular.”
The casino averages nearly $14 million every month in hand-paid jackpots, Pilman says, and has some of the loosest slots in Chicagoland.
High-rollers in the Club Victoria earn points toward cash and additional services, such as valet parking and priority reservations at the casino’s restaurants. The 24-hour deli offers quick bites to eat, while the Prime BurgerHouse serves up behemoth burgers and sandwiches, such as the lobster grilled cheese. There’s also the high-class, linen-affair Buckinghams Steakhouse, and starting in July, diners will enjoy a newly-remodeled buffet.
Dining is available at the on-shore pavilion, where there’s also space for banquets of up to 280. The riverboat is smaller than its land-based competitors, but the smaller quarters make for a more intimate gaming experience, says Pilman.
“It’s a very friendly atmosphere,” she says. “Many of our employees have been with us since we opened in October 1994. They’ve developed relationships with guests who have been with us for years. Our employees know the details about our guests, and more than just how much they bet or what games they play. They’ll talk about their families, and who got married and details like that.” ♣
1 West New York Street Bridge, Aurora, Ill.
Soak in the glitz and glam of the silver screen at the Hollywood Casino, Aurora. The grand marquees and red-carpet entrance are just the beginning. Inside, a massive collection of movie memorabilia accents a 53,000-square-foot casino floor.
Try your luck on the 1,170 slot machines or the 26 table games, including blackjack, craps, Caribbean stud poker, reservation blackjack and poker. Step inside the poker room for up to six tables of Texas Hold ‘Em and Bad Beat Jackpot.
For bigger rewards, join the Club Hollywood players club and earn points every time you play. The club has four levels, based on points accrued. Basic members can earn free valet parking and VIP treatment. Move up to the Producer or Executive Producer level to priority reservations at restaurants and hotels, and gain access to an exclusive, high-rollers’ lounge.
Choose among three glitz and glam restaurants. Grab a quick bite at the diner, or fill up on a variety of American, Asian and ethnic dishes at the Epic Buffet. For a posh dinner, stop at the ritzy Fairbanks Steakhouse, where the menu includes prime steaks, Oysters Rockefeller and an award-winning wine list.
Though Hollywood Casino has no hotel, casino guests (and Club Hollywood members) can still get stay-and-play deals. ♣
Potawatomi Bingo Casino
1721 W. Canal St., Milwaukee, Wis.
Potawatomi Bingo Casino encompasses some 780,000 square feet of casino games, a bingo hall, live entertainment, dining and banquet space, all under one roof. That’s gigantic, compared to the small-scale bingo hall it was when it opened in 1991.
The tribally-owned casino is always ready to play, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In 10 years, it’s closed only twice – once because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and again in this winter’s blizzard.
“Potawatomi is busy and frenetic, with lots of action on the floor and lots of noise,” says Ryan Amundson, communication manager. “There’s a palpable excitement on the floor. People like to anticipate when their luck will hit. For example, back in December, we had a $2.7 million winner. That was our biggest winner ever, and people get excited because think they could be that next big winner.”
There’s a lot to do on the casino floor, with 3,100 slot machines and nearly 100 table games, including five kinds of poker. The poker rooms are popular, too, says Amundson, and nearly 115 TVs in the off-track betting room simulcast greyhound and horse races from tracks around the country. Bingo remains a big draw, with three daily sessions that each seat up to 1,300 people.
“Our average daily winnings add up to about $75,000 for bingo,” says Amundson. “That’s anything from a few hundred dollars up to much bigger prizes. I was on the floor when someone won $1 million. That was exciting.”
For those who play a lot of games, the Fire Keepers Club offers additional discounts on restaurants and entertainment, and opens VIP access to the exclusive High Limit Lounge.
But Potawatomi offers more than gambling. A 500-seat theater stages acts such as Cheap Trick, Kris Kristofferson and Jay Leno. Hungry guests can stop by five dining hotspots, which range from a sports bar and Asian restaurant to the food court and buffet. A selection of banquet facilities is also available for business meetings, weddings and social events. Because Potawatomi is within five minutes of downtown Milwaukee, guests can get special stay-and-play deals.
Amundson says he’s not a gambler, but he still enjoys watching the fervor around the casino floor. “I love walking around the craps tables. It’s a very crowd-friendly game, so you’ll always see people yelling and having fun. If you’ve seen the movies, where people are gathered around screaming and shouting, it’s like that at our craps tables.” ♣
Jumer’s Casino & Hotel
777 Jumer Dr., Rock Island, Ill.
It may be in the Midwest, but Jumer’s Casino & Hotel wants guests to feel like they’re in Las Vegas. Colorful lights and carpeting, along with a wide variety of games, reflect the allure of Sin City.
“We’ve included showgirls on most Friday and Saturday nights here, and we have them walking the casino floors,” says Bill Renk, vice president of sales and marketing. “The public kept asking, ‘Where are the showgirls?’ So we hired a few.”
Jumer’s is technically a riverboat casino, even though it moved off the boat and into a building in 2008. The property encompasses a 42,000-square-foot casino floor, entertainment and banquet spaces, all attached to a five-story hotel.
The colorful gaming floor features 100 video poker games mixed with 24 table games, including blackjack, craps and Caribbean Stud. Inside the poker room, guests can join the tournaments four days a week.
It also offers some of the loosest slots in the Quad Cities, on some 1,100 machines. They’re routinely updated and replaced, which makes them especially popular.
“Anytime we get a new game, it’s great to watch our guests’ reactions,” says Renk. “We added the new Wizard of Oz slots this week, and as soon as we put it on the floor, people began filling those seats.”
That’s not all they’re filling. Jumer’s has four dining options. The buffet offers plenty of weekend specials, such as the Southern Nights Barbecue and the Steak and Lobster Buffet.Later in the evening, guests can stop by the Edje Nightclub, featuring live weekend entertainment, or the Oculus sports bar, at the center of the casino. It’s covered with 24 video poker games and big-screen TVs. The casino is attached to a five-story, 205-room hotel, where guests can relax at the salon and spa. Throughout the year, stay-and-play deals highlight other local attractions, like golf courses and ski hills.
The hotel offers extra deals for high-rolling members of the IMAGE player’s club, who can also get special access to the VIP Lounge, free valet parking and dining discounts. Frequent gamers come in all ages, though most tend to be older.
“We have all ages come here and play,” says Renk. “This January, a woman celebrated her 100th birthday with us.” ❚