We recently took a trip to the Chicago area, flying with friends who, like us, needed to “use up” a Harrah’s (now known as Caesar’s but I will never get used to using that name) 7* freebie trip before it expired the end of March. Yes, I know leaving sunny, seasonably warm Las Vegas for Chicago in January seems like a really dumb idea – but if you know me you know we make big efforts to get to places that offer good video poker. We did “pay” for this decision. A rather short-lived but traffic-stopping snowstorm did hit right when our plane that was to take us back home to Vegas was circling the Chicago Midway airport ready to land. It was not to be that day. That plane was diverted to St. Louis, the airport shut down, and we were re-booked on a flight the next day. Incidentally that flight was delayed by a severe windstorm in Vegas, but we finally made it back home, just 30 hours later than we had planned.
Fortunately, we have a wonderful host in the Chicago area, Rachel Northway, who jumped right into action when we called about our delay. She arranged a limo to bring us back to a hotel near the casino – and we were looking forward to an extra evening of playing on our favorite good machines. However, Mother Nature was not cooperating at all, and road traffic was snail-paced when moving at all. So our host finally made us a reservation at a hotel near the airport where the four of us enjoyed a much-needed long sleep after an exhausting day of delays and long lines. And then we pigged out on movies in our hotel room the next day until time to go back to the airport in the late afternoon. Happily the casino picked up most of the expenses incurred during the delay, so all we lost was time and we are all retired so time is something we have in abundance. We just considered it an extended vacation!
To head off questions I always get when I mention Harrah’s – and particularly when I report playing in an Indiana casino – here are some advance answers. No, Harrah’s is not a good play for everyone. It depends on which one(s) you choose for your play, which ones have the best games and/or the best promotions, and what denominations you are comfortable playing. It depends on whether the comps you earn save you money that you would spend anyway. It depends on your goals – are you looking for a big advantage play or are you looking for free or inexpensive vacations? Are you willing and/or able to travel to casinos in other areas? Do you have the self-discipline to eschew nearby casinos with poor playing conditions and save your bankroll for the times you can travel further to take advantage of better plays?
No, the Hammond Horseshoe Casino does not have an attached hotel and that is a lack that is inconvenient for us – we like a close room for napping breaks from gambling. If you qualify for a comped room, they will put you up at a hotel in the area. The closest one is the Ramada Inn. It is a bit on the “well-worn” side, but we have stayed there several times because it is only about a 10-minute drive from the Shoe and, if you don’t have your own car, they run an on-demand shuttle. And they do have suites there if you qualify for higher level comps. The casino does partner with some luxury hotels in Chicago, and this trip we stayed at the McCormick Place Hyatt Regency. It is a little closer to the casino than the choices in the middle of downtown, but still a 25-minute ride at the minimum and longer during heavy traffic times. There is a shuttle that runs to and from these hotels, but on a limited schedule, and only in the afternoons and evenings. Because we are 7*’s, the host arranged a limo for us if we wanted transportation when the shuttle was not running, but this all is fairly inconvenient. We would stick with the less-than-deluxe Ramada in the future. We value convenience higher than luxury.
Now for the particular subject of playing in an Indiana casino. Yes, Indiana does take out for state taxes 3.4% of every W-2G jackpot. And since there is no line on an Indiana state return for a deduction for your losses, you will probably never see that money again – even if you have a net gambling loss for the year. For a gambler whose goal is to make a profit, break even, or even to keep losses to a manageable level, this is a strong negative unless he chooses low denominations where jackpots don’t reach $1200. Most of the better paytables are at the higher denominations – and the frequent W-2G’s will “kill” most recreational players. We avoid this problem because we file as professional gamblers, sending with our non-resident state return a copy of our federal Schedule C. However, some professional gamblers have had problems convincing Indiana of their status, and even we had to jump through some paperwork hoops when they at first refused to return any of the withheld state taxes the first year we played there. However, I was persistent in my education of the Indiana tax people, and they finally saw my point of view. I’m glad, because we look forward to our visits back to our home state!