Our midwest casino tour

We were in Cedar Falls, Iowa this past weekend, dropping off Will for a few days to spend with his cousins and grandparents.  So on the return trip, minus our minor and with the dog safely stowed in the kennel, Annette and I did something we never do:  we gambled our way home, stopping at three casinos along I-80 and I-94 in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.  Here’s a link to a few gambling picts.

I should point out that neither Annette nor I are exactly “high rollers.”  I’m pretty sure we gambled less than $50 between the two of us, all of it at either video poker machines or slots.  I should also point out, for those of you thinking “casinos?  in the midwest?” that we could have easily stopped at eight or nine different places, maybe more.  Once you start looking, you realize there’s lots of gambling out there.

We started at Jumer’s Casino and Hotel, in Rock Island, Illinois, just across the river from Iowa. This was mostly a breakfast stop for us, a little over two hours from my parent’s house.  I give this place high marks for convenience, with “easy on/easy off” of I-280.  It was all shiny and new, and probably not a bad place to stay on a road-trip– while we were eating breakfast, we saw a lot of people on the way out of the hotel part and back onto the Interstate.  I also give this place high marks because the whole thing was non-smoking.  I could see us stopping here on the trip to and from Iowa again. But the down-side for me was that I screwed up in my betting and managed to lose about $10 on one bet on a quarter poker machine.

Stop number two was at Blue Chip Casino, Hotel, and Spa in Michigan City, Indiana.  While there are lots of gambling options in the midwest, there are some kind of screwy laws on this, and in Indiana (apparently), gambling has to take place on the water.  So what you’ve got with this place is a giant and shiny hotel, theater (upcoming acts include Paul Revere and the Raiders), and a parking deck, right next to the casino, which is actually a giant barge floating in a pond right next to the buildings.  But you’d never know this if you weren’t looking– the connection between the building and the boat is permanently in place, and the boat clearly never leaves.  Where would it go?

Anyway, I give the Blue Chip a definite thumbs down.  Far too off the Interstate to make it worthwhile as a roadtrip stop, and you show me someone who makes a point of going to Michigan City to play slots and I’ll show you someone who has a bit of a “gambling problem.”

We wrapped things up in Michigan at FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek (btw, sorry for the noises on their web site), where we stopped for a little gamin’ and dinner.  By this point, I think it’s fair to say that I was reminded of something I already knew:  every casino everywhere I have ever been– Vegas, Iowa, Michigan, wherever– pretty much is the same.  They all have that same kinds of blinking lights and things, the same games (with a few very subtle variations), the same hypnotic background noise of jingling machines, the same crazy-patterned carpets, the same smell of cigarette smoke (well, except for Jumer’s) and piped-in air/oxygen/air-freshener.  Annette and I did enjoy the nickel poker machines here though.

So, what did we learn?

  • Midwest gambling is dominated by old people– in some cases, very very old people.  Though to be fair, I am sure all of these places attract a more youthful clientele after 8 pm.
  • Midwest casinos are located in places where people would not otherwise go and/or stop– Rock Island and Michigan City, for example, not to mention a number of parts of Detroit.
  • One trend I noticed was a number of “machines” that were there to replace/replicate table games.  At one of these places (the specifics all blend together), I noticed a computerized version of a three card poker game; at another, it was a roullette game.  In both cases, it was people sitting around a gaming table like they would be if it were being played with real cards and/or a real dealer, but it was all computerized instead.  Sort of like the casino equivalent of those machines where you scan your own groceries.
  • Casinos seem to generally attract rather unhealthy-looking people, some who might even be zombies, cocktail-drinking, smoking, trucker-cap wearing zombies.
  • A closely related observation– midwest casinos seem to attract extremely fat people, the kind of fat where my response, as someone who is himself clearly overweight, is “hey, there’s nothing wrong with me because I’m not that fat.”  This was particularly true in Michigan, where I recall seeing at least two people being wheeled around because they were clearly too fat to propel themselves and where Annette and I witnessed a rather grotesque scene in the restaurant that had us making cruel jokes about Mr. Cresosote requesting a bucket and being offered a “wafer thin mint.”
  • Finally, stopping at the casino on the highway is not the same as Vegas, no matter how hard those Midwestern casinos might try.

6 thoughts on “Our midwest casino tour”

  1. I agree about midwest casinos…

    I think the “boat” is really funny — clearly, they created the pond, built the “boat” and opened… weird.

    For a while Iowa only permitted “riverboat” gamboling. In Council Bluffs they had a set-up similar to the boat on the pond, except that they were required by law to leave port for a small number of hours per year. So, they’d take the barge up and down the river from 4 AM to 7 AM on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday… goodness help you if you don’t hear the calls that they are going to depart.

    I don’t know when the laws changed, but Iowa seems to permit more casinos now.

  2. Maybe this is a personal blog for yourself–I was recommended to read your blog by one of your co-workers–but for a professor at a University I find this blog rather offensive. Your talk about materialistic aspects of people is rude and uncalled for. Maybe you should think twice about your job, because as an educator–if I was a student and saw this blog–I would not respect anything you had to say about…well…anything. This blog was okay until you made fun of people who went to casinos. Maybe you’re not to handsome to look at either…have you thought of that? Probably not, you make some pretty pompous remarks for a professor throughout the rest of you’re blogs. Think twice about what you put on your blog…you never know who might read it.

  3. Thanks for those carefully worded thoughts, Teacher1212. A few questions:

    * I’m curious what you find offensive. Are you saying that because I’m a university professor, I’m not allowed to have “a life?” What about this do you think college students would find problematic?

    * You seem oddly defensive about the people in casinos; why is that? It is true that I am “not to (sic) handsome to look at either,” though this is something I pointed out in my observation.

    * You wrote “Probably not, you make some pretty pompous remarks for a professor throughout the rest of you’re blogs.” Um…. meaning what? I’m not sure I even understand that sentence. Perhaps you mean “your,” but I believe you mean “posts” and not “blogs.” But then again, I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

    In any event, a lot of the entries as of late have been more in the “life” category, I suppose because it’s summer and stuff around EMU is a little slower. As I explain elsewhere, this blog is indeed about both “official” things about academia, teaching, work at EMU, and it is a “personal” blog about things having to do with my life. I assure you I “think twice” about what I post and you will not find anything here that has a negative impact on my job. Unless you consider doing something like a professor going to a casino or on vacation in the first place.

    If you want to read more professional and/or academic posts, let me suggest these categories:




  4. So there’s this bit:

    “Casinos seem to generally attract rather unhealthy-looking people, some who might even be zombies, cocktail-drinking, smoking, trucker-cap wearing zombies.”

    But clearly there’s also:

    “Casions also attract pompous intellectual professor types who undertake a complex, multi-state charade of casino attendance, gambling, and dining in a quasi-anthropological orgy of snarky participant-observation”


  5. It is true: because I don’t care that much for gambling, I would say that I’m mostly interested here in the snark factor. But not completely. Like most participant-observation experiences, there are points where the researcher feels the experience of being “pulled in” to the research itself. For example, I get as giddy from a payout as the next guy.

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