Playing the Odds

John Grochowski, Michigan Travel Ideas contributing writer, shares insider tips from his latest trip to the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

I’ve been writing about casino games for 14 years, and I wanted to see if Soaring Eagle met my personal criteria as a place to play:

  • Do blackjack rules and video poker pay tables give the skilled player a shot to win?

  • Are there games that give me a good run for my money? Is the player rewards system easy to use?

  • Do the rewards offset some of the house’s mathematical edge?

My journey through those questions started at the player rewards booth, where in addition to the $20 in premium play I received at check in, a club representative added another $10 for joining the club.

Looking for the best deal to use my premium play, I found an old friend: 9-6 Jacks or Better video poker, with the “9-6” meaning full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1. It returns 99.5 percent with expert play, and it worked for me. Once I’d made the required $60 worth of wagers to use the premium play, I had $60 in credits that I could cash out —my premium play was now real money.

Insider Tips

  • Blackjack players have three choices: hand-shuffled six-deck games, six-deck games with a continuous shuffling machine and single-deck games. The single-deck game pays only 6-5 on blackjacks instead of the usual 3-2. With fewer hands per hour, the hand-shuffled game is the best bet for most players. 

  • In addition to the main casino, Soaring Eagle has a Slot Palace with more electronic games. A free shuttle takes players between facilities. One of the resort’s best games, a version of Deuces Wild video poker which returns 99.7 percent with expert play, is in the Slot Palace. 

  • Premium play—free play that comes with some room packages—can be taken either in downloadable slot credits or in special table chips. Slot play is a more efficient use of it and you’ll get the most value at the best video poker games. 

  • The biggest crowds are weekend nights, and minimum bets may go up during peak times. However, a blackjack dealer told me $5 tables are always available.  

Trip Planner

  • Soaring Eagle Resort and Casino offers room packages such as Gas & Gamble, with a $50 gas card, plus premium play included with your room rate.

  • For those visitors who want to immerse themselves in the culture, the Ziibiwing Center, a Native American museum, is next door.

  • I dined at Siniikaung Steakhouse (which means “House of Stone”) and enjoyed a perfectly done, medium-rare ribeye and tasty asparagus-bacon soup.


John Grochowski is the author of half a dozen books on casino games, including the “Casino Answer Book” series, writes a weekly column and is known to Chicago radio listeners from his “Beat the Odds” tips that air on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780.