It’s about a two-hour drive from Nassau County to Monticello, New York, in the heart of the former Borscht Belt — one that takes you along progressively smaller roads until you wend past pine trees and stone walls to New York’s newest upstate casino, Resorts World Catskills.
From the outside, the 18-story resort cuts an austere profile, a mirrored tower jutting above the surrounding woods. Past the busy valet stand and through the atrium entrance, however, is a volley of sound and light. A 100,000-square-foot gaming floor jangles with thousands of slot machines. Unlike many casinos, where natural light is blocked so that gamers lose track of time, here high windows illuminate the casino floor, a refreshing touch.
Resorts World Catskills has received a lot of buzz both before and after cutting the ribbon on Feb. 8. More than three years and $1.2 billion in the making, the sprawling resort and casino will, when complete, have 332 suites, nearly a dozen places to eat, and — later in 2018 — another adjacent boutique hotel and “entertainment complex” with retail shops and a few more restaurants. Eventually, an indoor water park called The Kartrite will open, as will an 18-hole Rees Jones-designed golf course.
These are ambitious plans reminiscent of the grandeur of the hotel that once occupied this site — a Borscht-Belt resort called the Concord. They will also take time to enact. For now, though, you might hold off a visit until late spring or summer, when more of the resort’s amenities become available.
The casino’s owner, Empire Resorts Inc., threw open the doors early in part to lure Asian gamblers celebrating the Lunar New Year. They are a target demographic for Resorts World Catskills, as I found during a February visit, and Asian-inspired details are scattered throughout the resort, from décor to food to a crimson-hued casino-within-a-casino with table games such as Pai gow poker and baccarat. Some staff hand out business cards that are in English on one side, Mandarin on the other.
The efforts seem to be bearing fruit: Asian gamblers are already in abundance throughout the labyrinth of 2,000 or so slot machines, which include a 4-D holographic game called Sphinx, as well as table games that include the usual — blackjack, craps and Texas Hold’em, all with $25 game minimums.
Though most of those games are up and running, the culinary side of things is still a work in progress. During its first weeks, the casino had four places to order food: A sports bar called the Doubletop Bar & Grill, where peak-time waits sometimes extended to two hours; a food hall (away from the gaming floor) with sandwiches, pizza, burgers and desserts, and an Asian food court (nearer the slots) with dumplings, noodle bowls and congee (rice porridge); and a fine-dining Chinese restaurant, Lotus, plating dishes like honey-walnut shrimp and cumin-spiced lamb. (There are no printed drink menus throughout the resort’s other bars, but Lotus serves an elegant lychee martini).
Later this spring, two more restaurants will open to ease the dining bottlenecks: A sleek American eatery and bar called 24/7 Diner, and an Italian restaurant helmed by celebrity chef Scott Conant, called Cellaio. Dry-aged steaks, fresh pasta and ample fine wines will suit this resort well.
And there’s even more to come: In late spring, a spa with two indoor pools, its own bar and private farm-to-table restaurant (with an as-yet unnamed Michelin-starred chef) will debut, as will two fitness rooms and a handful of private gaming salons, one of the luxe details that aim squarely at high rollers and those that travel with them.
A VIBRANT PATCHWORK
For now, the experience is more proletarian. On a Saturday evening, the crowd is a vibrant and slightly rowdy patchwork of ages, races and personalities — including 20-somethings who cluster at Bar 360, one of the gaming floor’s two open watering holes, to hear a band belt out Michael Jackson and soul covers.
Resorts World Catskills has held job fairs to fill some of its 1,400 positions, jobs with benefits that are expected to be a shot in the arm for economically depressed Sullivan County. With only a few weeks of experience, some of the new staffers seem tentative when answering questions about menus, say, or directions.
Their turndown service, though, is impeccable. Only about one third of the resort’s 332 suites were open in late February (weekend rates start at $299 per night). The rooms were plush and spacious, cast in cool tones with velvet armchairs, a huge desk, an enormous flat-screen television, comfy platform bed and plenty of tea and small candies. The marble bathrooms are large enough to do yoga in, with separate nooks for shower and toilet. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in lots of light — but may look out on a muddy construction site, reminding you of the general state of things.
As we check out in the morning, costumed dragons are taking their place outside the main entrance — the stirrings of a Lunar New Year parade. Soon, a volley of firecrackers explode and propel the dancing dragons (each manned by two dancers) into the casino and through the maze of slot machines, where they occasionally stop to shimmy and shake. We follow the crowd, cellphones aloft, and easily lose our sense of time and direction amid the maze of blinking slot machines.
Isn’t that why most people come, anyway?
IF YOU GO
Resorts World Catskills
888 Resorts World Dr., Monticello, New York
The resort is a 2- to 2.5-hour drive from Nassau County and 3 to 3.5 hours from Suffolk.
All of Resort World Casino’s rooms are suites, the smallest around 600 square feet. Rates start at $299 on the weekend and can go as low as $139 during the week. Penthouse suites and two-story villas will eventually be available, at higher rates. Parking is valet (free for guests) or in both outdoor and underground lots.
The 100,000 square-foot gaming floor has about 2,000 slot machines and 150 table games, including poker and blackjack, with private, high-stakes gaming salons opening soon.
As of early March, the resort had four food options: Two food courts, a sports bar and fine-dining Chinese restaurant, Lotus. A casual eatery called 24/7 Diner and a high-end Italian restaurant and steakhouse will open this spring.
INFO 833-586-9358 rwcatskills.com