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A GUIDE TO PENNSYLVANIA CASINOS

by Mark Gruetze

Mark Gruetze writes the weekly "Player's Advantage" gambling column for the Pittsburg Tribune-Review in Pennsylvania. His columns are online at http://triblive.com/aande/gambling. He has been a skilled recreational player for more than 30 years, focusing on blackjack, video poker, and poker. E-Mail questions or comments to players@triweb.com.

With 10 years of legalized casinos, Pennsylvania is easily America's No. 2 state in gambling revenue and trying to increase its haul.

Regulators have awarded the license for a fifth Philadelphia area casino, and state lawmakers budgeted for an additional $100 million in gambling tax revenue for 2016-17, apparently from online gaming or other expansions. As the two-year legislative session wound down in late October, the state Senate was considering a bill to allow Internet casino games of all types, not just poker; legalization of Daily Fantasy Sports betting also was on the table.

The state has 12 casinos, most of them near population centers. Unlike most jurisdictions, the Gaming Control Board sets the blackjack rules for all casinos in the state, so players at a $5 table at Erie's Presque Isle are dealt the same game as $100 bettors in Philadelphia's Parx. Wisely, regulators kept players in mind when setting the rules. For example:

  • All blackjacks must pay 3-to-2.
  • Dealer must stand on Soft 17.
  • Players may double down on any two cards.
  • Players may double down after splitting
  • Casinos must offer late surrender.

The combination yields a house advantage of less than 0.4 percent for the basic strategy player at a shoe game, according to WizardOfOdds.com. The Sands in Bethlehem once dealt a double-deck game, but customer service says that's no longer available.

Video poker and slot fans won't find much to attract them. VPFree2.com says only Harrah's Philadelphia and Mt. Airy Casino have video poker with 99 percent or better payout. The statewide average payout for traditional slots is 90.03 percent.

Pennsylvania casinos reported $3.23 billion in combined slot and table game revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016. That's the state's best total since table games were added in 2010. The first legal slot machines began operating in November 2006.

Pennsylvania has three types of casinos: those with horse tracks, standalone operations and resort casinos. The two resort casinos, Lady Luck Nemacolin and Valley Forge, are small, and players must be customers of the resort. Basically, that means you must spend at least $10 on a meal or other item before being allowed on the casino floor.

A map of the state's casinos is available here: http://gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov/?p=180. Here's a quick guide to each casino, in alphabetical order. When comparing casino size, note that Home Depot says its stores average 105,000 square feet. In the chart, "table games" refers to player-vs.-casino games such as blackjack, craps and roulette.

Harrah's Philadelphia

777 Harrah's Blvd., Chester, PA 19013; (800) 480-8020

Owner: Caesars Entertainment Corp.

Opened: January 2007

Player's Club: Total Rewards

Square feet: 106,102

Table games: 79

Poker tables: 28

Slot machines: 2,720

Hotel: No

Restaurants: Steakhouse; Guy Fieri's Philly Kitchen & Bar to open in November 2016; five other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: Live harness racing and simulcast races; 30 minutes from Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and other Philadelphia attractions.

Hollywood at Penn National

777 Hollywood Blvd., Grantville, PA 17028; (717) 469-2211

Opened: February 2008

Owner: Penn National Gaming

Player's Club: Marquee Rewards

Square feet: 99,356

Table games: 57

Poker tables: 16

Slot machines: 2,384

Hotel: No

Restaurants: Steakhouse, buffet, seven other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: Thoroughbred racing and simulcasting; Grantville is near the state capital of Harrisburg

Lady Luck Nemacolin Resort Casino

4067 National Pike, Farmington, PA, 15437; (888) 523-9585; ($10 resort purchase required to enter casino)

Opened: July 2013

Owner: Isle of Capris Casinos, which has agreement to sell the casino to El Dorado Gaming

Player's Club: Fan Club

Square feet: 26,016 ($10 resort purchase required)

Table games: 29

Poker tables: None

Slot machines: 597

Hotel: Six lodging options, from five-star boutique hotel to RV park, at Nemacolin Woodlands, a brief car or shuttle ride away

Restaurants: Three in casino; multiple others at resort

Amenities/nearby attractions: 2,000-acre resort is in Laurel Mountains near the famed Fallingwater house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; resort is an hour from the Flight 93 Memorial where a hijacked plane crashed on 9/11

Meadows

210 Racetrack Road, Washington, PA 15301; 724-503-1200

Opened: June 2007

Owner: Since September 2016, casino operated by Pinnacle Entertainment; formerly owned by Cannery Casino Resorts

Player's Club: By April 2017, MyChoice; currently Meadows Advantage

Square feet: 125,215

Table games: 68

Poker tables: 14

Slot machines: 3,168

Hotel: Hyatt Place (Pittsburgh South) connects to casino building via pedestrian bridge; other hotels nearby.

Restaurants: Steakhouse, combination buffet/sit-down restaurant, food court, four other food options

Amenities/nearby attractions: Harness racing and simulcasting; bowling alley; outlet mall; 40 minutes from Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, an archeological site dating to prehistoric times.

Mohegan Sun Pocono

1280 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702; (888) 946-4672

Opened: November 2006

Owner: Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut

Player's Club: Momentum

Square feet: 85,682

Table games: 72

Poker tables: 18

Slot machines: 2,332

Hotel: 238-room hotel with on-site spa and adjacent 20,000-square-foot Convention Center

Restaurants: Ruth's Chris Steak House, buffet, 17 other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: Harness and simulcast racing; casino on 400-acre site near Knoebels Amusement Resort, Blue Ridge Trail Golf Club and Claws 'N' Paws Wild Animal Park.

Mt. Airy Casino Resort

312 Woodland Rd. Mount Pocono, PA 18344; (877) 682-4791

Opened: October 2007

Owner: Lisa DeNaples

Square feet: 67,746

Player's Club: Mount Airy Player's Club

Table games: 72

Poker tables: 9

Slot machines: 1,868

Hotel: AAA four-diamond winner Mt. Airy Resort

Restaurants: Steakhouse, buffet, five other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: Property set on 1,056 acres in Pocono Mountains includes lakefront 18-hole golf course, $5 million indoor/outdoor pool, 18,000-square-foot spa; five miles to Crossing Premium Outlets

Parx

2999 Street Road, Bensalem, PA 19020; (888) 588-7279

Opened: December 2006

Owner: Greenwood Racing Inc.

Player's Club: XClub

Square feet: 176,592

Table games: 79

Poker tables: 28

Slot machines: 3,504

Hotel: No

Restaurants: Parxgrill upscale restaurant, food court, four other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: Thoroughbred and simulcast racing; 20 minutes north of center city Philadelphia

Presque Isle Downs

8199 Perry Hwy, Erie, PA 16509; (866) 374-3386

Opened: February 2007

Owner: Eldorado Resorts

Square feet: 59,356

Player's Club: One Club

Table games: 33

Poker tables: 7

Slot machines: 1,588

Hotel: Baymont Inn next door to casino

Restaurants: Steakhouse, buffet, two other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: Thoroughbred and simulcast racing; Presque Isle State Park, which juts into Lake Erie, is nearby, along with Waldameer Park & Water World and Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park.

Rivers

777 Casino Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212; (877) 558-0777

Opened: August 2009

Owner: Rush Street Gaming

Square feet: 138,140

Player's Club: Rush Rewards

Table games: 87

Poker tables: 30

Slot machines: 2,969

Hotel: No, although media reports say casino hopes to start building one in early 2017

Restaurants: Steakhouse, buffet, three other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: Within walking distance of Heinz Field (Steelers/University of Pittsburgh), PNC Park (Pirates) and Carnegie Science Center; on Pittsburgh's North Shore, near where Monongahela and Allegheny rivers meet to form the Ohio.

Sands

77 Sands Blvd., Bethlehem, PA 18015; (877) 726-3777

Opened: May 2009

Owner: Las Vegas Sands

Square feet: 145,913

Player's Club: My Sands

Table games: 207

Poker tables: 30

Slot machines: 3,013

Hotel: AAA four-diamond Sands Hotel

Restaurants: Emeril's Chop House and two other restaurants bearing Chef Emeril Lagasse's name, buffet, plus five other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: Built on the 126-acre site of the abandoned Bethlehem Steel plant, the Sands features a spa, KidsQuest and outlet mall.

SugarHouse

1001 N. Delaware Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19125; (877) 477-3715

Opened: September 2010

Owner: Rush Street Gaming

Player's Club: Rush Rewards

Square feet: 90,611

Table games: 104

Poker tables: 28

Slot machines: 1,889

Hotel: No

Restaurants: Steakhouse, six other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: SugarHouse is along the Delaware River and minutes from center city Philadelphia. The casino provides free rides on its Sugar Express trolley from more than 20 locations throughout the city

Valley Forge Resort Casino

1160 First Ave., King of Prussia, PA 19406; (610) 354-8118; ($10 resort purchase required to enter casino)

Opened: March 2012

Owner: Valley Forge Convention Center Partners

Player's Club: Valley Club

Square feet: 33,222

Table games: 50

Poker tables: 0

Slot machines: 600

Hotel: 485 guest rooms and suites, plus 100,000 square feet of meeting, conference and banquet facilities

Restaurants: Steakhouse, seven other food outlets

Amenities/nearby attractions: Near Philadelphia and only minutes from Valley Forge National Historical Park, Valley Forge Resort includes a 20,000-square-foot poolside club, open-air bar with poolside dining, private cabanas, sandy beach and live entertainment.

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