by John Grochowski
Majestic Star Casino & Hotel Gary, Indiana
Casinos players know the language of 2-for-1. Coupons for two buffets for the price of one, two show tickets for the price of one and 2-for-1 match plays are staples in the gambling world.
So how about 2-for-1 casinos? That’s what the customers get when they go to Buffington Harbor in Gary, Ind., home of the Majestic Star Casinos.
The Front Entrance of the Majestic Star Casinos
From the land-based pavilion that houses Majestic Star’s restaurants, lounge and gift shop, you have a choice. Go through the turnstiles on your right to board Majestic Star, or to your left and test your luck on Majestic Star II. Not your day on your first choice? Disembark, cross the corridor and board the other.
Yes, “disembark” and “board.” The Majestic Stars are on boats, though the gaming has always been dockside since northwest Indiana casinos started to open in 1996. The two-boat setup, unique in the Chicago area, is a historical accident. Gary was awarded two casino licenses, one for Majestic Star, one for Trump casino. They built a shared pavilion on Buffington Harbor>, and opened their gambling boats with entrances across the hallway from each other. Majestic Star owners bought the Trump casino in 2005.
It’s been a difficult marketing challenge. Two operators, same location meant that a certain number of customers attracted by one casino would spend their money at the other. With that problem in cost-effectiveness of marketing initiatives in mind, but casinos went through periods when they didn’t do all they should have to bring in the customers.
Majestic Star today is trying to turn what once was a problem into a strength, giving players a choice of gaming experiences to go with poker tournaments and promotions such as the King of the Couch big-screen TV giveaway and the $120,000 Money Machine that gave guests the chance to step into a booth and grab for cash.
A look at the gaming floor of the Majestic Star Casinos
Majestic Star was turned into the main table games boat, with 59 tables to 33 on Majestic Star II. It has one of the largest selection of table games among casinos that are an easy drive from Chicago, with blackjack (most tables offer the 21+3 side bet), craps, roulette, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud, Caribbean Draw, Let It Ride, Spanish 21, Fortune Pai-Gow Poker and Texas Hold’Em Bonus Poker.
A spacious baccarat room on Majestic Star lets mini-bac players stretch out. A noodle bar at the back of the room brings Asian dishes from the Ken Kee Restaurant.
On Majestic Star II, there are fewer tables, but the boat does have a 21-table poker room that has been home to some of the Heartland Poker Tour’s most successful events. With limit and no-limit Hold’Em, limit and pot limit Omaha, and limit H.O.S.E, the poker room has been a Chicago area favorite dating back to Trump days.
Table minimums are the lowest in the Chicago area on both boats. There won’t always be $5 blackjack tables, but even when the blackjack minimums go up to $10, there are $5 minimums at craps, Caribbean Stud and other games.
One thing both facilities have are penny slots — lots of them. With a large number of penny slots on both the Majestic Star and the Majestic Star II, this is a place to mine copper. Billboards boast the hottest penny slots in the area, and in most months the two Majestic Stars do lead the Chicago area in penny slot payback percentages.
The pennies bring some of the most up-to-date video games to Gary, with IGT’s FortKnox, Aristocrat’s Power Pays, WMS’ Hot Hot Super Jackpots and Atronic’s King Kong Cash all in the mix. But for those who prefer their slots old school, there are plenty of three-reelers here, with large banks of reel-spinners such as IGT’s Double Diamond, Triple Diamond and Double Red White and Blue having been here since the beginning.
Majestic Star was once one of the best video poker casinos this side of Nevada. Sadly, that’s no longer the case. There are still a few gems here, but you really have to be dedicated to rooting them out. More and more, there are fooler games such as 8-5 Bonus Poker that just pays 150 coins for a five-coin wager on all four of a kinds, instead of giving the 400-coin bonanza on four Aces.
Away from the gaming areas, Majestic Star made a serious attempt to upgrade its food service several years ago. The Steakhouse is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, is the best high-end restaurant the operation has ever had, with quality steaks and seafood. The restaurant offers a three course meal special for only $27 plus tax. Less successful has been the Passports Buffet. It is much improved over the buffet that turned off diners in the 1990s and it wins points for its low cost — lunch is $10.99 most days, and dinner is $13.99 during the week. On the weekend is the seafood and prime rib dinner buffet which is $22.99 and on Sunday there is a $13.99 brunch. There is also a third restaurant, Majestic Wings N Things, which offers burgers and wings and is open everyday from 3pm to 6am.
The Lakeshore Lounge is a fun spot for a beverages and lively entertainment. Local bands have an urban appeal, with heavy emphasis on blues, soul, Motown, reggae and funk.
Overnight guests can book into the 300-room Majestic Star Hotel, overlooking Lake Michigan . Hotel rooms are clean and comfortable, and some of the views are breathtaking, but the hotel could stand a major spruce-up as it has not been upgraded since Trump first opened it in the 1990s.
Overall, however, as a place to spend the day playing pennies, low-minimum table games, or live poker, Majestic Star has the right mix.
Majestic Star is just off Lake Michigan at Buffington Harbor, at 1 Buffington Harbor Drive, Gary, IN, 46406.
For more information, call the toll-free at (888) 2B-LUCKY or visit their web site at www.majesticstarcasino.com