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.