Plenty of free parking… and the only poker room in Northwest Indiana… This is part of what you’ll hear when you enter the lobby at Harrah’s as a part of their promotional pre-recorded message which greets visitors to their casino. Harrah’s Casino is located on the south end of Lake Michigan, in a town called East Chicago, Indiana. Only 20 minutes from downtown Chicago, Harrah’s regularly attracts poker players from the surrounding areas, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky. I currently live in Champaign, Illinois (about 2 hours south), and play mostly just on weekends due to the fact that this is my only free time to play.
Harrah’s Showboat Casino is housed on a riverboat called the Windstar, now permanently docked at Pastrick Marina, just off Cline Avenue. The Windstar has four levels – levels one and two housing an assortment of Sbobet Indonesia slot machines and video poker, and level three housing more slots and table games such as Blackjack, Craps, and Caribbean Stud, which I mostly try to steer clear of. Level four contains a high-limit room with Blackjack, Bacarrat and Pai-Gow poker, and most important to me, a 15-table poker room. Hours of operation of the casino are 8:00 am to 5:00 am, and you can always find a poker game during these hours.
If you’re from out of town, and need a place to stay, Harrah’s offers luxury accommodations in their new 293-room hotel, opened just last year, and adjacent to the Casino. There are also plenty of local hotels and motels close to the casino, with a wide range of room rates.
Even though Harrah’s does not have the only poker room in Chicago Land, it carries the distinction of being the largest and by far the most successful, spreading the greatest variety of games and limits in the area. Low limit games that are regularly spread are $1-$5 7-card stud, $2-$10 7-card stud, $2-$10 Stud 8-or-better, $4/$8 and $5/$10 Hold’em ($5/$10 on weekends), and $5/$10 Omaha high/low. On Saturday, the $5/$10 Omaha game is currently played with a full kill, meaning that if someone scoops a pot with $50 or more in it, the game goes to $10/$20 for the next hand, and the scooper must post a $10 kill blind. The poker room carries bad beat jackpots on all games $6/$12 and under. To qualify for the bad beat in stud, any four-of-a-kind or better must be beat. In Hold’em, it is Aces full of tens or better, and in Omaha the qualifying hand that must be beat is four eight’s or better.
Middle-limit games spread at Harrah’s these days consists mainly of $10/$20 and $20/$40 Hold’em. Sometimes these games are played with a half-kill, depending on the vote of the players at the table when the game starts. During the week, you can always find a $10/$20 or $20/$40 Hold’em game, and on weekends you will find several $10/$20 and $20/$40 tables. The first $10/$20 and $20/$40 games that are opened are known as “main games”, and any additional games at those limits that are opened are considered “must-move” games. The advantage to this is that if a seat opens up in say the $10/$20 main game, it is immediately filled by moving in a player from the $10/$20 must-move game. This insures that the main game is always a full game. Other middle-limit games Harrah’s has spread include $10/$20, $15/30, and $20/40 7-card stud, $15/$30 H.O.S.E., and $30/$60 half Stud 8-or-better, half Omaha 8-or-better.
If, however, you are looking for a little higher limit game to play, Harrah’s has that covered also. Harrah’s regularly spreads a $50/$100 H.O.S.E. game, both during the week and on weekends. The H.O.S.E. game is really four games in one – Hold’em, Omaha 8-or-better hi/lo, 7-Stud, and 7-Stud 8-or-better hi/lo. In Chicago, the game is played nine-handed, with nine hands played of each game (one full round). The dealer or one of the players keeps track of the number of hands played of each game. Today the game is normally played at a limit of $50/$100, but Harrah’s will spread whatever limit they have a demand for. In the past I have seen the HOSE game played at limits from $15/$30 up to $75-$150, as always, depending upon player demand.
On the weekends, Hold’em is the rule, rather than the exception. On Saturday night it is not unusual to find multiple $10/$20 and $20/$40 Texas Hold’em games. Sometimes the waiting lists for these games grow long, and if you don’t come to the room until 8 or 9 pm, you may be waiting a while for a seat. Of course, you can always play $5/10 Hold’em, $2-$10 Stud, or $5/$10 Omaha hi/lo while you’re waiting for a seat in one of the middle-limit games, and who knows, maybe you’ll hit that bad beat jackpot and take home several thousand. At this time of night on Friday and Saturday, the room is absolutely packed, with all 15 tables going. The hum of conversation in the room during its busiest sometimes grows so loud that you have to raise your voice to get in a cocktail order. The excitement in the room is both thrilling and disturbing at the same time.
Harrah’s East Chicago
Also during the week, on Mondays and Tuesdays, you are likely to find a pot-limit Omaha game going with blinds at $10 & $25. Make sure you have a substantial bankroll before you sit down at this game. As Knisch said to his friend Mike McDermot in the movie Rounders, “You don’t want to butt onions with these guys. They’ll chew you up – take your whole bankroll.” Actually some of these guys aren’t so tough (I’ve played with some of them in other games), but they’ve got the bankroll to play the game without fear, and that certainly gives them an edge. In the past Harrah’s has also spread pot-limit and no-limit Texas Hold’em, and at one time about two years ago, they were the only card room in the country that had a regular pot-limit 7-card stud game. I played in the pot-limit stud game several times, and really enjoyed the experience.
If you’ve never been to Harrah’s poker room before, be sure to pick up a player’s card out in the lobby, or at card member services on the second level. Harrah’s poker room provides a comp rate of $1 per hour for poker players – comp points that can be used for food or for a room at their new hotel. Just present your player’s card to the girl at the counter in the poker room, when you buy your chips, and she will check you in. There are several places where you can grab a quick bite, or even sit down for a more substantial meal at Harrah’s. The Winning Streaks is a sports bar where you can get burgers, steak, seafood or maybe just a salad. If you’re looking for a varied menu, give the Fresh Market Buffet a try. The French Quarter Room is where you want to go if you are looking for a fine dining experience, with only the best steaks and seafood served. If you want to eat at the French Quarter Room, be sure to call in for reservations ahead of time.
The card room staff at Harrah’s are excellent. The card room manager is Mike Palm, a no-nonsense individual who controls the poker room with the dedication and discipline of an Armed Forces commander. Yes, Mike is known for running a tight ship (no pun intended). Dominic Niro is the night shift manager, who handles disputes among players with the diplomatic skill of a Henry Kissinger. Quick with a smile to soften an angry player, or with sternness designed to quench even the strongest resistance, Dominic is firm but fair. The rest of the floor staff at Harrah’s have a lot of collective experience – experience gained from having been former poker dealers.
My game of choice these days is $10/$20 Hold’em, although sometimes I will play $2-$10 Stud, $5/$10 Omaha, or $20/$40 Hold’em. The $10/$20 and $20/$40 games normally generate a lot of action, and big wins in these games is not unusual. I’m certainly no expert, but I have played poker in California, Nevada, Michigan and Mississippi, and in my opinion the middle-limit Hold’em games at Harrah’s are some of the best games in the country.
If you’re ever in Chicago, be sure to come out to Harrah’s in East Chicago. And if you’re not too involved in the action, stop by the $10/$20 Hold’em game to say hello. I’ll be the guy with the green cap and toothpick, and hopefully, a large stack of chips.
For more information on Harrah’s Casino in East Chicago, Indiana, you can visit their web site at www.harrahs.com. Or, if you’re in the area, you can call the poker room at (219) 378-3558 for information about games currently being spread.