Monday, April 7, 2014

Mt Airy Casino - Worth a Visit?

 Right off the bat, I was not impressed. It seems to me that Mt. Airy is pushing on the “resort” front and on the “casino” front as well. However, I’d wager that my opinion is in the minority since the place was packed on a Saturday afternoon when we visited and very few patrons were complaining. The issue, I guess, is what does one compare this venue to!

The ride from New York is a fairly easy one, straight on I80 from where I live in Westchester County, and closer by about 10 or 15 minutes than Mohegan Sun in Connecticut which is about 2 hours away. Traffic on a Saturday late morning in April was light and moving compared to the trek up I95 to the Indian casinos, a journey that always yields heavy traffic, multiple big rigs hogging the road, and invariably an accident that adds many minutes to the trip.

Mt Airy, a former Poconos vacation destination that catered to couples and weekend getaways in the 60s, 70s and the 80s, is much improved over the building that used to occupy pretty much the same area. Billboards along the way still advertise “lovers’ retreats” but my guess is most of those places are taking a back seat to Mt Airy and the few other Pennsylvania casinos that are within 25 miles of here.

Valet parking is free and you can tip whatever you like but the cars are lined up on the access road waiting for a valet to check them in. Someone needs to take a look at this system and organize the “flow” in a different way. I’m sure Dr. DeNaples, the owner of record, would prefer customers walking in to his establishment with a smile on their faces rather than a scowl from waiting in traffic.

The building itself has a retro rustic look with many stone and wood touches. The entranceway/lobby has a high ceiling and bodes well for the first time visitor. Once you ride the escalator to the 2nd floor you are greeted with a large open room and the ding of slot machines welcomes you to the casino floor.

There are lots of slot machines at Mt Airy, over 2000 in the 62,000 square feet of gaming space. Aside from a few machines that were recently vacated, every machine had a user and some had anxious guests waiting for others to leave. Slot machine business was brisk to say the least.

My wife and I sat down at a $10 blackjack table (there were no tables with a lower minimum when we were there) dealt out of a shoe of at least 6 decks. There was a “designer” side bet that could be made if any of your cards matched the dealer’s cards. Only one person at the table was playing this option – he was either feeling very lucky or he was unaware of the high odds in favor of the casino that these kinds of bets have. I never saw him win this bet once.

We both won, almost doubling our stakes, and moved to a crap table, also $10 minimum. When we first arrived, there was only one crap table open but after an hour or so there was another. The third crap table was closed. Craps was a pretty standard operation with 3,4, and 5 times the odds accepted on pass line bets. There were no additional wagers offered. We lost most of what we won at blackjack but that’s gambling. After a couple of hours on the casino floor many of the $10 tables had changed to $15 minimums and many others had notices that they too were moving up in stakes. My guess is that by Saturday evening the minimum on any table game is $15.

My wife played a few slot machines to no avail and if you do not enjoy slots, Mt Airy is probably not the place for you. Upstairs on the 3rd floor there is a small poker room. When we visited there were two $2/$4 limit full tables, two $1/$2 no limit full tables and one higher stakes no limit table in operation. There were small waiting lists for each game. The manager seemed like a pleasant person which is the norm for most poker rooms. We didn’t play but the room was inviting.

Mt Airy has a large buffet room which we never got into since the line snaked around outside of the restaurant area and moved very slowly. We opted for Betty’s Diner which seemed like another option but that too had a line that was ominous. Another fancier restaurant was closed and apparently only opened in the evenings.

Mt Airy reminded me of what casinos in Atlantic City used to be like when they were the only shows in town – crowded, noisy, unhappy looking people wanting to lose their money any way they can. Yet, for most, this is a viable option if you can deal with the crowds. Many seemed willing to do this.

One last caveat, Mt Airy casino is smoky, very smoky. I am not a smoking Fascist, having had the habit myself and knowing what a hold it has on people. Nevertheless, casinos large and small that invest in sturdy, efficient ventilation systems have conquered the problem of second hand smoke very well. Mt Airy has not done that at this point. The poker room, as is the procedure for most poker rooms where players sit in the same place for hours on end grinding away to make a few bucks, is smoke free!

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