Pennsylvania has quickly grown into a major player in the gaming industry, offering something for every type of guest
BY SEAN CHAFFIN
While it may not receive as much media attention as Atlantic City on the East Coast and Las Vegas out west, Pennsylvania has a thriving casino industry – thanks to its numerous “racinos,” which are located at or near horse racing tracks. These Keystone State gaming facilities offer a wide range of amenities as well as tons of slot machines and video poker to please every taste, and accommodate players of all bankroll sizes.
Parx Casino, located in Bensalem on the New Jersey border, is adjacent to the Parx racecourse and features 3,500 slots, 120 live table games, a 60-table poker room, and multiple restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The racetrack opened for business in 1974, with the casino added in 2006. The facility features over 165,000 square feet of gaming.
There are good reasons for the popularity of this casino. Parx caters to players with dazzling design, high-end finishes, and a sophisticated atmosphere with marble floors and walls; hand-crafted blown glass ceiling fixtures; crystal chandeliers; and onyx and wood archways with stainless steel accents. For slot fans, there are machines of all varieties and denominations including Wheel of Fortune, Lord of the Rings, Mermaid’s Wonders, Yahtzee, Godfather, and more. Players can also make use of “Xclusive,” a private gaming area featuring high denomination slots. The room is available to Premium and Elite Xclub members and features an Xclusive cashier and jackpot window; unique light fixtures and chandeliers; art glass panels; and high-end wood finishes.
Away from the slots, the casino features excellent dining options including the Parx Grill, an upscale and contemporary steakhouse. For sports fans, Jax offers 20 LED TVs showing the latest sporting events, video poker, signature cocktails, and premium beers. For those seeking nightlife, 360 is a sleek bar that turns into a nightclub after dark with live entertainment. Guests can groove to celebrity DJs, tribute bands, live dance acts, and cover bands. And, of course, the racetrack hosts some of the best thoroughbred racing in the area.
Located in southwest Pennsylvania in the city of Washington, this casino is a world-class entertainment destination with more than 78 table games and 3,300 slot machines, including more than 1,900 penny machines. A high-limit slots area in a relaxing, upscale setting is also available. Its slot areas have seen the addition of new games and a re-configured floor to make it easier to find popular machines. Similar slot and video poker machines are clustered together in the same area and range in denomination from a penny to $100. The casino is constantly adding new machines; favorites include Alice and The Enchanted Mirror, Alice and the Mad Tea Party, and The Great and Powerful Oz.
The Clubhouse is available for Gold and Platinum card members. For club members, this area offers 193 exclusive machines. The machines are the preferred favorites for club members, and include an exclusive bar with discounted drinks and a complimentary snack bar and exclusive club promotions. The track features world-class harness racing.
The Meadows racetrack opened in 1963, and the casino opened in 2009. A $25 million expansion project recently launched, which will add a 1,400-space parking garage and 24,600-square-foot multi-purpose center. A new hotel and retail development site are also being added. Beyond the casino floor, amenities include premier restaurants with spectacular views of the gaming floor and the racetrack; a racing grandstand with VIP suites; a simulcast area; and an all-ages bowling center.
The Bistecca, a traditional steakhouse with Italian flair, is a popular dining option. Entertainment options include Silks Lounge for local and national acts, while Gibsons Cigars + Spirits offers a relaxing atmosphere. The Meadows has featured major entertainers such as Larry The Cable Guy, Joan Rivers, and the Beach Boys.
“Exceptional guest service is what has made The Meadows racetrack and Casino a success,” says Michael Jankoviak, director of slot operations. “We consistently respond to our guests by providing the slot product they would request on the slot floor. We are constantly refreshing the floor; most of these changes come straight from guests.”
MOHEGAN SUN AT POCONO DOWNS
Owned by the Mohegan Indian tribe of Connecticut, the casino is located in Wilkes-Barre – offering easy access to gamblers in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware. The tribe purchased the Pocono Downs from Penn National Gaming in January 2005 for $280 million. After a major expansion, the track opened the first slots casino in the state in 2006.
Located on 400 acres in the city of Plains, the casino boasts over 55,000 square feet of gaming space including many smoke-free areas. For the slots gamer, the Mohegan Sun features 2,500 slot machines with denominations ranging from a penny to $100. Games offered include classics such as Wheel of Fortune games, Triple Red Hot 7’s, Monopoly, Deal or No Deal, Hot Shot Progressives, and more. More than 80 table games and electronic table games are available.
The racetrack features 141 days of live harness racing and wagering excitement with free admission and parking. Opening day is April 3 and the season runs through Nov. 17, with live racing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Mohegan Sun has some special events not to be missed. Kentucky Derby Day (May 5)– Racing Double-header. First Post Time is 11:00 a.m. with 10 races on the card. Kentucky Derby 138 Post Time (approximately) 6:30 p.m. Live racing to follow immediately after the Kentucky Derby with another 14 live racing card. Preakness Stakes (May 19)/Belmont Stakes (June 9), live racing starts immediately following the running of both of these big races.
Dining and shopping options abound at the Mohegan Sun. For a night out, check out the always-great Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Rustic Kitchen Bistro & Bar, a Tuscan villa-themed eatery. There are several other casual and quick dining options including Timbers Buffet, Pearl Sushi Bar, Wolfgang Puck Express, and Bar Louie, a hip restaurant and bar specializing in oversized sandwiches and unique jumbo martinis.
Looking to experience some nightlife? The Sunburst Bar offers cocktails in a gorgeous setting in the center of the casino complete with video poker and flat-screen TVs. Another option is the high-energy live music venue, Breakers. The 8,300-seat Mohegan Sun Arena, just a short distance away, hosts major music and sports, including the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre Penguins. For shoppers, offerings include fine apparel, jewelry, electronics and gadgets, and gourmet food items. Whatever you’re looking for in casino getaway, Mohegan Sun definitely deserves consideration.
Just a short drive southeast of Philadelphia, Harrah’s-Chester Casino and Racetrack features more than 2,900 slots and video poker machines. With a 100,000-square foot gaming area, the casino offers something for every type of slot and video poker player, including classics like Wheel of Fortune, the popular World Series of Poker machines, and Electronic Blackjack. Reel and video slots are offered in denominations ranging from penny slots to $100 high-limit machines. Gamblers can also sit down at live table games including blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat, and a 35-table World Series of Poker Room. Beyond the casino floor, check out live harness racing from March through December. The track was opened in 2006, with the casino opening for business in 2010.
Harrah’s also features several restaurants and bars to suit any mood, including Temptations Buffet for a huge variety of tempting dishes; End Zone Sports Bar & Grill for sports lovers; and The Cove, serving up Tuscan-inspired dishes, as well as a tapas menu at The Cove bar. Another restaurant, the recently-added Mien, serves delicious Asian cuisine.
Top entertainers and musical acts frequently take the stage at Harrah’s-Chester. Recent performers have included Brian McKnight, Kenny Rogers, and Rick Springfield. Another fun after-dark option is C-Bar, a stylish ultra lounge located in the center of the casino floor which is a perfect place to grab a cocktail or enjoy a night out with friends.
PRESQUE ISLE DOWNS & CASINO
Located less than 90 minutes from Cleveland and Buffalo in Erie, Presque Isle boasts elegance mixed with a “welcome to the party” atmosphere. This horse track and casino opened in 2007 and features a one-mile oval track and more than 2,000 slot machines of all denominations. The Presque hosts some unique slot promotions (last month, the casino gave away his and hers snowmobiles!).
The casino offers 48 table games including blackjack, craps, mini-baccarat, 3-Card Poker, and others. The facility’s poker room offers regular poker tournaments; last month, its special tournaments and promotions included the return of 2003 WSOP champion Chris Moneymaker to the casino’s poker room.
After working up a hunger on the casino floor, hungry players can head over to Sensory 3, a fine dining restaurant with a menu that includes delectable steaks and spirits, served in a fun, trendy environment. The Backstretch Buffet on the main casino level features a variety of entrees, salads, fish, a bread bar, Asian cuisine, and sweet desserts. The Downs Clubhouse and Lounge offers visitors a gorgeous view of the track, and live music every weekend.
HOLLYWOOD CASINO AT PENN NATIONAL
Located in Grantville by way of Tinseltown, Hollywood Casino offers a good gamble in a colorful, exciting atmosphere. The casino, which opened in 2008, is located about 15 minutes northeast of Harrisburg and 10 minutes north of Hershey. With more than 2,400 slot machines, ranging from one penny to $100, Hollywood features a machine for every taste–from Rome and Egypt and Flame of Olympus, to Sex and the City and Kitty Glitter. Hollywood also boasts 56 table games including blackjack, craps, roulette, Let It Ride, Pai Gow poker, and more, as well as an extensive poker room.
For some time away from the casino, a day at the races might be in order–and Penn National remains a force in the horse racing world. Turf racing is featured on the nationally acclaimed seven-furlong course. After your winner crosses the finish line, your group may want to head out for a night of elegant dining at Final Cut Steakhouse, where you’ll find mouthwatering steaks, seafood, chops, and daily specials. Other dining options include: Skybox Sports Bar, with more than 50 LCD screens offering sports action along with a menu of pub favorites, and premium beers and spirits; and the Epic Buffet, offering American favorites such as baked ham, turkey, meatloaf, seafood, vegetables and salads, and also Italian and Asian favorites.
As for entertainment options, Hollywood On The Roof is one of central Pennsylvania’s most popular live music venues. From acclaimed tribute bands to top classic rock and country bands, the music in this festive atmosphere will definitely keep your toes tapping.
Whether you’re looking to settle in at some terrific slots and video poker machines, enjoy the heart-pounding excitement of live horse racing, or enjoy a fantastic meal and a concert by one of your favorite performers, the casinos of Pennsylvania offer it all. Good luck!
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer based in Rockwall, Texas, and editor of www.PokerTraditions.com, devoted to poker history, lore, lifestyle, and people. For more information on his work, visit www.seanchaffin.com. Do you have an interesting poker tale? Email sean@PokerTraditions.com.