My son has been taking summer classes at Northern Illinois U., coming home weekends, and Marcy and I have been driving him back to DeKalb each Sunday night. The pattern established, Marcy said to me, "One of these weeks, we should just keep driving past DeKalb and pick somewhere for an overnight. A little change of scenery."
I suggested we drive another couple of hours to Rock Island and take a look at the Jumer's casino. The last time we did that, Jumer's was on its old boat, which tells you how long its been. The new, modern Jumer's casino barge with its comfortable, up-to-date hotel opened in December 2008. I don't usually let so long pass between trips to any of the casinos reasonably close to home.
I'm not going to go into all the details, just a couple of impressions from our overnight.
**The casino had plenty of penny video slots to keep Marcy happy. For me, the real attraction was single-hand, 25-cent 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker. There is very little playable single-hand quarter video poker in the Chicago area, where I live, so these games are a treasure, even if they are three hours from home.
They're not quite the same game you'd find in Vegas. Full-pay 10-7-5 Double Bonus pays 100.17 percent with expert play, and that's illegal in Illinois. Gaming regulations prohibit any game with a theoretical return of more than 100 percent. Never mind that very few players master the difficult Double Bonus strategy and most get 3 to 4 percent less than the break-even point. The state doesn't want any games in the casinos that will reduce its tax take, and somehow doesn't trust the bottom-line-driven operators to put profitable games on the floor.
Jumer's had full-pay 10-7-5 Double Bonus on its old boat, approved at a time gaming board test programs weren't really up to snuff. By the time the new casino barge opened, the Illinois Gaming Board was no longer approving the game. But the game was an attraction, and Jumer's wanted it in its casino. So it installed a version used as a $5 game in other markets. It's the same as full-pay Double Bonus up and down the pay table, except on the hands that pay 250 coins for a five-coin bet. On Jumer's Double Bonus, if you draw a straight flush or four 5s on up through four Kings, your payback is 239 coins instead.
On $5 machines, that means the dollar amount of the payback is $1,195 instead of $1,250, leaving it $5 below the $1,200 threshold at which IRS paperwork is required before a jackpot can be paid. More important for Jumer's quarter machines, it brings the overall theoretical payback percentage down to 99.79 percent with expert play. It's still a great game, but within Illinois' peculiar limits.
**New at Jumer's is the Blue Square Cafe, which features dishes such as the portabello fries served at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the Stadium bratwurst with special sauce served at Miller Park in Milwaukee and the Monsters of the Midway chili served at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The connection is that all are ballparks with concessions from Delaware North, Jumer's parent company. I didn't know the connection at first, and was a little taken aback as I looked around the displays that lined the walls. There were jerseys and other memorabilia for the Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers, Green Bay Packers ... and no Chicago Cubs. Made this old Cub fan feel quite out of place.