Fiery Scare, Temporary Death for a Special (to Me) Casino

by , Mar 21, 2009 | 5:04 pm

photo: Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune

The Empress Casino in Joliet, IL, and its poker room of course, had to be evacuated yesterday as a big fire threatened to turn the first casino I ever gambled in to ashes.

At age 19, a couple of my Northwestern classmates and I would skip a few classes sessions of Super Mario and make the trek to Chicago’s outer suburbs … (I can’t remember if you only had to be 18 to gamble or if we used fake IDs) … and we all know where things have gone from there. When the Empress opened in 1992, you used to have to pay $12 to go on a “cruise” … i.e. the boats would leave the dock for about 10 feet. We were so excited to learn, after a few trips, that we could be playing enough $5 blackjack to get the pit boss to “comp” us another cruise ticket, and eventually we didn’t even have to stop playing or get off the boat! Ahh, our first taste of the high-roller life.

This is also where I was introduced to the concept of “a chip and a chair” when I once took my last $10 and put it on the 5-to-1 on the Wheel of Fortune and eventually left the casino that day up about $200, which was an absolute mint back then. It is also where I was exposed to (but didn’t quite get) the concept of bankroll management when my girlfriend at the time kept coming over to a blackjack table where I was winning and grabbing $30 or $40 every so often. I was pretty pissed at her by the time I ultimately went bust, thinking she blew my wad on slots little by little … but much to my pleasant surprise she was just pocketing the money, and when I later moaned to her about the bad beat I took with an 11 against the dealer’s 6, she was totally nonplussed and pulled out $265 that she had stashed away, telling me, here, this is yours … to which I responded “I love you”.

5 Comments to “Fiery Scare, Temporary Death for a Special (to Me) Casino”

  1. on tilt

    that might be the sweetest degenerate gambler love story I’ve ever heard.

  2. Joose

    That bankroll management story is awesome. My wife does the same thing, except she really does blow the money on slots!

  3. Losty

    Was everyone OK? How long is it Dark?

  4. DanM

    Yeah, no one was hurt … I think they’re still figuring out how long the casino will have to be shut down. But clearly the whole town wants to see it back up and running, so it’s one of those inspirational stories about people getting back together to rebuild.

  5. Uncle Ray

    Not being a cynic (well, maybe I am) but the “inspirational” story is that the City of Joliet stands to lose about $1.5 Million a month if the casino is not open. And the employees were asking the bosses if they were going to get paid while the place is closed.

    And Dan, the legal casino gambling age has always been 21 in Illinois. But some of the best gambling stories are illegal ones, just like the best drinking stories are from underage years.

    By the way, the Casino boat was untouched and un damaged. The pavilion that was being remodeled/upgraded was where the fire started. Apparently, the onshore facilities make it difficult to reopen the boat, at least for now.