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Buying Trump boosts Barden's Majestic plans

Casino properties in the greater Chicago area have changed hands before, but never with the potential to exert such an impact on local gaming enthusiasts as the sale of the Trump Casino & Hotel in Gary to its next-door-neighbor at Buffington Harbor, the Majestic Star Casino team led by Detroit based businessman and entrepreneur Don Barden.


Majestic and Trump were always the "odd couple," sharing a pavilion and essentially the same clientele.  No matter what either one of them did in terms of marketing, the competition's front door was only 20 feet across the hall.  The arrangement inhibited growth for both properties.


Trump, which began operations with great promise, eventually became an underachiever in a huge market that industry analysts say is underserved in the first place.  Even with a hotel facility and live poker room, amenities Majestic didn't have, Trump was unable to dominate.


Through aggressive promotions and advertising, including signing Mike Ditka as official spokesman and launching a major offensive to attract high rollers, the Majestic in recent years increased its brand recognition and market share but was never able to take it over the top.


For all practical purposes, the competition for gambling dollars in Gary evolved into a 50-50 proposition for Trump and Majestic.


Acquiring the Trump property and creating an all-Majestic Star presence at Buffington Harbor is something Barden had wanted to do for a long time.


"I've had a vision from Day One, 10 years ago, as to what I thought that property and the whole lake front in Gary could look like and become," Barden said.  "Now we are a step closer to realizing that dream."


Majestic has an opportunity to double its number of gaming positions, which paves the way for a greater variety of both slot and table games with the competition eliminated.  Look for an expansion of venues that appeal to average players on a budget now that the space reserved for high-end games won't be compromised.


There'll be other dividends.  For example, gamblers in the Chicago area who prefer a non-smoking environment are accustomed to small areas with limited selection.  Barden plans to make the entire lower level of the old Trump vessel smoke-free with room enough for the widest array of games non-smokers have ever seen.


Even though the new Majestic Star will be a twin-vessel destination, it'll bear no semblance to similar operations that used to exist in the Chicago area in Illinois when just 1,200 positions were spread across two cramped boats.  We're talking about two spacious vessels that accommodate upwards of 3,000 slots and tables between them.


Barden also revealed that the slot operation will be converted to 100 percent TITO (ticket-in/ticket-out), plus he'll follow a nationwide gaming industry trend to enhance the non-gaming amenities that'll be available.


"There'll be more entertainment on the vessels as well as additional restaurants and retail shops in the immediate future," he said.


This is for certain: The things that Barden will be able to do with his giant gambling complex will strengthen the market by creating an invigorated presence in Gary that the other properties in the Chicago area will not take lightly.


John G. Brokopp is a local free-lance gaming writer.  E-mail .








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