It’s a sure bet than even those averse to gambling will find plenty to do in the resort casinos springing up all over the Northeast, far from Atlantic City and even farther from Vegas. A cut (or ten) above the conventional slot machine depots associated with smoke-filled casinos of old, these new permutations encompass boutique hotels, celebrity-chef restaurants, superstar entertainment and other opportunities that have nothing to do with risking your hard-earned money.
Here, two versions — one in the countryside, one in an urban setting — showcase two distinct ways that these gaming centers are attracting a clientele far more diverse than the typical slots and blackjack players. For a quick gambling hit (albeit without live table games, just machines), you can always swing by the cozy Jake’s 58 in Islandia or Resorts World Casino in Queens. These destinations make for a complete weekend trip — or longer.
MGM Springfield, Massachusetts
Though ostensibly a gambling hall, MGM Springfield — the first MGM in an already developed urban center — has brought life back to what was a municipality in decline. By repurposing vacant buildings, creating an eye-catching Plaza, drawing headliners to the Mass Mutual Center (owned by the State of Massachusetts but now managed by MGM), opening locally recognized restaurants and bars, and utilizing wit and nods to local legends (Dr. Theodor “Seuss” Geisel, Emily Dickinson) in the construction of a chic boutique hotel, MGM Springfield delivers a satisfying vacation, even for those who eschew betting. There are signs that the resort, opened in August 2018, is setting off a renaissance in this Western Massachusetts city.
INFO Rooms from $160 per weekdays, $270 weekends; 413-273-5000, mgmspringfield.com
Mohegan Sun, Connecticut
The soaring geometric glass towers of Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino, opened in Uncasville in 1996 and owned by the Mohegan Tribe, appear suddenly (and startlingly) as you round a curve in the rolling hills along the Thames River in southeastern Connecticut. (This was the second Native American casino to rise in Connecticut. Foxwoods, managed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe 10 miles away, was built in 1986.) Embellished with bead and bark designs, roaring waterfalls, a 25-foot-tall glass centerpiece by artist Dale Chihuly, and two hotel casino towers called “Earth” and “Sky,” Mohegan Sun is one of the most dazzling gaming resorts in the country — with a vibrant interior design that creatively celebrates the local tribal heritage. Continuously evolving, Mohegan Sun recently opened the four-football-fields-large Earth Expo Center, and in January launched Aspire, a dedicated VIP “hotel within a hotel” with butler service, private blackjack tables and free food and drinks throughout the day.
INFO Rooms at Aspire start at $300 to $600 per night depending on season and day of week; 888-226-7711, mohegansun.com
Where should you go?
Both Mohegan Sun and MGM Springfield are powerhouse casino-resorts. Although they both have solid gaming components and well-regarded spas, they radiate very different vibes. Can’t decide which to choose? This Q&A might help.
What kind of décor do you want (and where do you want it)?
Boutique hotel (and book) lovers will adore the literary-influenced rooms at MGM Springfield, for sure one of the trendiest boutique hotels outside New York City. The hotel lobby is designed like a library; passages from Emily Dickinson’s poetry are woven into carpets; sculptural lighting fixtures on hallway walls evoke Dr. Seuss spectacles; guest chambers feature concrete ceilings and darkly painted walls splashed with bookish art.
At Mohegan Sun, the upscale rooms are more subdued — but just wandering the massive footprint of the resort brings you in contact with vivid art and glass installations and water features beloved by Instagrammers. An enormous Chihuly glass sculpture stands before a roaring waterfall, and the Sky Tower Lobby shows off a fiesta of sculptural trees, with a ceiling of beaded “sails” and birch bark capping a central mosaic fountain pool.
Do you prefer a focus on gaming or other experiences?
At MGM Springfield, there is no doubt that you have landed in a gaming center. The 5,000 slots are front and center wherever you roam outside the hotel lobby. In contrast, you can meander around Mohegan Sun and for the most part never see a machine at all.
Which resort is best for families?
At this point, Mohegan Sun is the winner. The large indoor pool inside a glass atrium is very popular with families, as are the Kid’s Quest supervised activity center for children 6 weeks to 12 years ($12.25 per child/hour), and Cyber Quest Arcade for unaccompanied kids over 12.
Would you rather see a celebrity onstage or fine-tune your golf or bowling skills?
Mohegan Sun takes the gold in attracting big name headliners (Springsteen, Jay-Z, Beyoncé) and sporting events to its Mohegan Sun Arena. Guests can watch lesser known or emerging musicians play, for free, at the Wolf Den in Earth Casino. But for interactive fun, head to MGM Springfield, where you can play “virtual golf” on 95 famous courses (including Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines) at Top Golf Swing Suites; try for a strike at Tap Sports Bar’s 10-lane bowling ally; recline, have a glass of wine, and watch a first-run movie on one of seven large screens at Regal Cinema, or, in winter, skate on the outdoor ice-skating rink.
When it comes to shopping, do you like to support local businesses or are you partial to national brands?
While the shops at Mohegan Sun run national (Sephora, Tommy Bahama, Godiva Chocolate and the like), MGM Springfield supports local businesses such as Hannoush Jewelers and Kringle Candle Emporium (owned by the grandson of Yankee Candle founder). The MGM also features the only Indian Motorcycle retail store in the country (Indian Motorcycles were manufactured in Springfield from 1901 to 1953). If you buy the $25,000 “Indian Sidecar” cocktail at the casino's Commonwealth Bar, you’ll get a motorcycle along with it.
Other casinos near LI
Connecticut. Foxwoods Resort Casino, opened in 1986, was the first destination Native American casino in the country, complete with hotel, dining and entertainment. For nongamers, check out the incomparable Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, one of the best Native American Museums in the USA. Or, if thrills are more your speed, beeline to the brand-new High Flyer Zip Line, Thrill Tower Sky Launch and Drop, Monza World Class Karting and 7-D Multi-Sensory Dark Ride. INFO 860-312-3000, foxwoods.com
New York. Resorts World Catskills launched in February 2018 with more than 100,000 square feet of gaming action including 150 live Vegas-style table games, 2,150 state-of-the art slot machines, a poker room and private gaming salons and 10 bar and restaurant options in the main casino hotel building. The Alder, a new lifestyle hotel that is directly adjacent to the main building, encompasses New York’s first TopGolf Swing Suite and Dos Gatos, a cantina-style Mexican eatery. INFO 833-586-9358, rwcatskills.com
Pennsylvania. With 188 upscale rooms, Mt. Airy Casino Resort was Pennsylvania’s first AAA-rated 4-Diamond Casino, and in April it will unveil a new 20,000-square foot ballroom/events center and 100 more luxury guest rooms. Besides the casino and entertainment that features mostly tribute bands, nongambling guests can play rounds of golf on Mt. Airy’s unique 18-hole course, where each hole is modeled after the most challenging ones from legendary American Championship golf courses. INFO 877-682-4791, mountairycasino.com
What sets Mohegan Sun Poconos (opened in 2013) apart from its sister property in Connecticut is its on-site Harness Race Track and home base for radio station 104.9FM, The River. Here, besides all the slots and table games, you can bet on the horses in real life in real time, and watch the radio-jockeys at work, too. INFO 570-831-2100, mohegansunpocono.com