Elgin’s Grand Victoria rolls out new look
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media January 21, 2014 5:00PM
Updated: February 23, 2014 6:12AM
ELGIN — “Aunt Vicky” is ready for her close-up.
The Grand Victoria Casino — or Aunt Vicky, to some of its gambling customers — has completed its $4 million, four-month renovation, said marketing director Suzanne Phillips.
Gone are the Victorian-era drawing room features, replaced by a modern casino design — lighter, airy and bold pops of color. Browns and burgundies are gone, replaced with purple, white, red and slate hues.
“It is very different,” Phillips said. “The entire casino has a completely different feel. It is more open, cleaner — even the wall coverings.”
Celebrating its 20th anniversary on Oct. 6 when it opened, the Grand Victoria Casino riverboat evoked a classic, smoking lounge sort of feel.
But with competition growing for gamblers, it was time for a change, officials from the casino said.
Some of those changes have come from changes to gaming rules.
When the Illinois General Assembly first approved casinos, the facilities had to be water-based and had to make at least a short cruise from the docks — in the Grand Victoria’s case, up the Fox River in downtown Elgin. Following each cruise, the riverboats had to be cleared out and the next round of gamblers allowed back on. That practice ended in 1999.
Still, however, the entryway between the casino and the pavilion — where gamblers waited to embark — included doors and turnstiles.
Now those standing in the pavilion can see directly onto the gaming floor. The turnstile metal barriers have been removed, so those going onto the boat are counted with an electric eye.
“We got rid of the multiple doors from pavilion to the boat, and it feels wide open,” Phillips said.
The renovations follow previous updates to the casino’s restaurants. Prime Burgerhouse replaced the Fox and Hound Sports Bar five years ago, and the Indulge Show Kitchen Buffet reopened last spring with a lighter and brighter design.
Other planned renovations to Buckingham’s Steakhouse and planned renovations to the pavilion may be on hold, however, as the casino recovers from losing gambling space and a decrease in revenue during the renovation work, Phillips said.
According to the Illinois Gaming Board, the Grand Victoria Casino saw its adjusted gross receipts drop 18 percent between December 2012 and December 2013 — from $16,766,174 to $13,673,605.
In comparison, all Illinois casinos reported seeing a drop in gambling in December as compared to December 2012, according to the state board. December admissions were down among all casinos nearly 17 percent from last year as well.
For the Grand Victoria, some of the drop may be due to the renovations.
Portions of the gaming floor were unavailable at various times during the work, Phillips said.
“We did see a decrease during construction — 20 percent of the slot floor was closed at any one time,” Phillips said.
“We saw declines in the 4½ months of construction but hope to see changes now that we are reopened.”
The severe cold and snow of early 2014 likely are hurting the casino as well, she added.
“We are basically taking a rest” on the renovations for the time being, Phillips said. “The disruption is hard on business.”
Some painting has been done in the pavilion, and more paint and flooring changes are planned as well.
The future of the massive clock — left over from when the pavilion was a waiting area for gamblers — has yet to be determined.
But for those who have come in to check out the casinos changes, the response is positive, Phillips said.
“In general, our customers love it,” she said.
The thing gamblers seem to love the most, however, is the new stools, Phillips said.
“They are much more comfortable,” she added.
Other changes include new carpet printed with the Grand Victoria crown. No longer having aisles — created by the carpeting pattern — has made the boat feel bigger.
The lower-level poker room also was expanded, she said, as was the high-roller room on the main floor.