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by "Reload" Joe Freda

Joe Freda has been an avid gambler and writer for the past two decades, covering casino and sports wagering. His efforts include several years of articles at Sportsbook Review and Don Best Sports, while enjoying trips for blackjack and poker throughout North America and the Caribbean. Freda can be reached at or through Twitter (@ReloadSports).


After seeing the movie "Mississippi Grind," my wheels were turning for a longer gambling trip than usual. October's hike up to Bangor's Hollywood Casino put its share of miles on the dashboard, but it was time for an even further jaunt into upstate New York. Turning Stone Resort Casino would be a 4.5 hour journey for me, with the lure of some double-deck blackjack at the end of the road.

My visit took place on November 1, allowing an extra 60 minutes of "falling back" to my traveling advantage. With Halloween just having passed, I had wondered if I would be in for a ‘trick' or a ‘treat' after making the lengthy voyage.

Background on Turning Stone (5218 Patrick Road, Verona, NY)

Turning Stone has a full casino layout, with its property located just off the New York Thruway (I-90). The venture of the Oneida Indian Nation was the original game in town before various "racinos" and other competing venues made their way into the Empire State.

Pulling up to the resort, I valet parked and was charged an upfront $6 fee (the trip's first ‘trick'). While I have enjoyed free valet service at most casinos, paying the six bucks at least made the wait-time shorter and more manageable to retrieve my car than many other properties.

The casino's main floor had one primary area of blackjack tables, along with several craps games (3x4x5 odds) and double-zero roulette tables. Sectioned off from this were a high-limit area, featuring blackjack, midi-baccarat, and Pai Gow Poker.

Slots surrounded the entire space as I moved into a second pit, mostly full of ‘carnival' games, which included Spanish 21 and Blackjack Switch. Video poker also had its share of presence, with 8/5 and 8/6 Jacks or Better as the best games.

A final pit was non-smoking, with most of its space dedicated to lower-minimum blackjack. Despite New York's heavy horse racing scene, no race book existed in the venue's confines. A live poker room was popular among players, and keno was also offered.

The rules of blackjack varied quite a bit throughout the casino, and I did my share of asking at various tables to ensure my expectations were met. Most tables had red felt and showcased eight-deck shoes, with the dealer hitting soft 17 ($15 min-$300 max).

As you got closer to the high-limit area, some tables on the main floor had...

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