Casinos aplenty without the Catskills

Grand Pequot Tower lobby at Foxwoods in Ledyard, CT.

Every so often, the question of casino gambling in the Catskill Mountains pops up, as it has done once again.

The Catskills were the "Borscht Belt" of show business and resorts in the post-World War II era when whole families, predominantly Jewish but by no means exclusively so, headed out of New York City and environs to escape the summer heat by spending time in one of the numersous resorts that dotted the mountains just northwest of the metropolis.

Kutscher's, Grossinger's, Brown's .... the names went on an on. Many show biz stars such as Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett, Shelly Berman and others made their marks there as seasonal entertainers. But, as these things do, the era eventually faded and one by one the great resorts closed down, fell into disrepair and most were sold off to would-be developers.

The Catskills never have rebounded except for a few ski centers such as Windham, named for the village that is home to it. But the idea of permitting legal gambling so close to such a major population concentration is a tempting one and plans for an Indian casino have been unveiled and are currently being hotly debated. Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynne, a native of Upstate New York, has even stuck his toe in the water.

New York City residents aren't exactly hurting for casino gambling venues, however. Not with Atlantic City, NJ, so close and some huge Indian casinos in nearby Connecticut. The next largest population center that would be a natural customer for a Catskills casino would be the state capital area of Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs an hour or so north.

But that area also is anything but bereft of gambling venues. There are 20 within an easy 200-mile driving radius, ranging from small "racino" establishments -- raceways that also offer video gaming machines -- to fullfledged resort casinos.

New York has a mix of Indian casinos and racinos. Among its neighboring states, Pennsylvania has the same, New Hampshire and Rhode Island have casino gambling at their greyhound tracks, Massachusetts is home to several casino cruise boats, and two casino resorts in Connecticut that are within the 200-mile driving radius – Foxwoods, already the largest casino in North America, and the sprawling Mohegan Sun -- both are undergoing huge expansion programs.

Only Vermont lacks casino gambling of any sort.

The closest casino venue for Capital Region residents is Saratoga Gaming & Raceway, the refreshed version of a harness racing track founded in 1941 that had long existed in the shadow of the international renowned thoroughbred meeting at the Saratoga Race Course.

Financially, the racino mix obviously is well accepted by the public. Prior to adding video gaming three years ago, the highest total racing purses were $3.1 million dollars, according to track officials. Last year that rose to $12 million, and the handle increased last year to a record $64 million.

The complex, which was the state’s first video gaming venue, is adding room for 431 more video machines, which will bring the total to 1,700 by spring. The new gaming floor area also will include a high limit area with games played in denominations up to $25, and a new 300-seat restaurant and two-tiered nightclub are being added.

Here's a rundown on each of the 20 venues in order of driving distance from downtown Albany. Gaming hours vary, particularly for bingo sessions, so it is advisable to call ahead to check specific hours.

Crescent Avenue
Saratoga Springs
Distance: 34 miles
Gaming: 1,700 video slots when current expansion is complete. Games range from penny to $10 bets. Wagering on harness racing at the pari-mutuel windows.
Notes: Dining ranges from pizza joint to grill to upscale fare in the multi-tiered Fortunes restaurant with a view of the track. As noted, additional facilities are in the works.

688 Brattleboro Road
Hinsdale, N.H.
(603) 336-5382
Distance: 84 miles
Gaming: 10 poker tables, greyhound racing.
Notes: Dining room serves basic dinners plus full lunch menu.

204 Route 17B
(866) 777-4263
Distance: 103 miles
Gaming: More than 1,500 video machines ranging from penny to $10 slots. Harness racing.
Notes: Commonly known as “The Mighty M.” … Food court and buffet dining. … Live lounge entertainment.

5218 Patrick Road
(800) 771-7711
Distance: 114 miles
Gaming: 80 tables, 2,400 machines, bingo, keno lounge.
Notes: This resort complex includes a trio of 18-hole golf courses, 10 restaurants, a spa and lodging ranging from an RV park to a four-diamond lodge, along with live entertainment shows in an 800-seat theater.

at Vernon Downs
4229 Stuhlman Road
(877) 888-3766
Distance: 115 miles
Gaming: 777 video machines plus pari-mutuel wagering.
Notes: 175-room hotel on premises. Pools, lounge entertainment, fitness center. … Dining ranges from deli to pub restaurant to several buffets.

at Yonkers Raceway
810 Yonkers Avenue
(914) 968-4200
Distance: 143 miles
Gaming: More than 4,000 video gaming machines taking bets from a penny to $10. Live harness racing.
Notes: The name comes from the original name of the race track. … Dining includes a buffet, the full-service Lillian Russell CafĂ©, with the new 1899 Tavern Steakhouse and a food court opening this spring.

1 Mohegan Sun Boulevard
Uncasville, Conn.
(888) 226-7711
Distance: 157 miles
Gaming: Three gaming venues covering 300,000 square feet, with more under construction. The
Casino of the Earth features more than 3,600 slot machines and 206 gaming tables as well as a fully-enclosed non-smoking room, the Hall of the Lost Tribes, with 600 slots machines plus video poker. The Casino of the Sky has several thousand more slots as well as a dance floor, a lounge and non-smoking gaming areas. The Race Book, which has more than 300 television screens and 222 self-wagering carrels, offers viewing of live horseracing (including Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct) and greyhound racing events as well as professional jai alai
Notes: This already huge complex is being expanded, with phased-in projects scheduled for completion by 2008 (a third casino), 2009 (four more restaurants plus increased retail space) and 2010 (1,000 more guest rooms and an additional spa). Right now, the 11-year-old complex has a 10,000-seat performance arena, a 350-seat cabaret theater, a 300-seat live band performance space, professional sports events (boxing, basketball, bowling, etc.), 30 restaurants and beverage outlets, a 34-story, 1,200-room hotel tower, and 130,000-square-foot
retail shopping area.

1600 Louisquisset Pike
Lincoln, R.I.
(800) 720-7275
Distance: 158 miles
Gaming: More than 2,000 video slot machines spread over a variety of smoking and non-smoking rooms. Greyhound racing and simulcasting.
Notes: The facility is undergoing a $125 million renovation and expansion project which will include refurbishing of current gaming areas and the addition of two new wings to accommodate an additional gaming area, a feature bar, a 350-seat buffet, several restaurants and a new 2,000 seat multipurpose room for live entertainment. … Current facilities include an Irish pub restaurant and a Catch A Rising Star comedy club.

39 Norwich-Westerly Road
Ledyard, Conn.
(800) 369-9663
Distance: 160 miles
Gaming: The largest casino in North America, with a staggering 7,400 slot machines and more than 380 gaming tables. Penny slots up to $100 bets, in six casinos. The newest addition is 300 new penny slots. There also are a race book and what is billed as the world's largest bingo hall.
Notes: The Tree House Arcade is non-gambling venue for kids that even has a flight simulator. … A huge expansion, the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, is scheduled for a spring 2008 completion. Earlier this month, a topping-off ceremony was held when the last steel beam was put in place. … Entertainment is a big component, with major headliners performing in the 1,400-seat Fox Theatre.

2384 West River Road
(888) 946-8464
Distance: 170 miles
Gaming: Harness racing and 750 video machines in a newly constructed 90,000 square foot casino.
Notes: Food served in buffet, sports bar and deli spots. … Live lounge entertainment.

361 Woodcleft Avenue (The Nautical Mile)
(516) 377-7400
Distance: 171 miles
Gaming: Slots and video poker plus blackjack, craps, roulette, Caribbean stud poker, poker tournaments. Call ahead to check on activities.
Notes: You must be 21 to board the Southern Elegance, a 160-footer with a 500-passenger capacity. … Cruise includes a buffet and all non-alcoholic drinks. Alcoholic drinks are extra. … The port is about 35 miles east of Manhattan on the south shore of Long Island.

Route 106
Belmont, N.H.
(877) 872-2501
Distance: 173 miles
Gaming: Poker, greyhound racing on premises, simulcast horse racing. Poker tournaments every Thursday-Sunday.
Notes: A steakhouse, a buffet and Southern-themed blues club-restaurant take care of dining options. … Located six miles north of the New Hampshire International Speedway.

6 Rowe Square
Gloucester, Mass.
(800) 453-1179
Distance: 179 miles
Gaming: 125 video poker machines, 9 table games. Blackjack, craps, roulette.
Notes: Buffet meal. … Cruise is three miles offshore into international waters. … 450-passenger Vegas Express sails from Elliott's Wharf off Main Street. No one under 21 permitted to board.

76 Marine Boulevard
Lynn, Mass.
(877) 412-7700
Distance: 180 miles
Gaming: More than 100 video poker machines, 9 table games. Blackjack, craps, roulette.
Notes: Buffet meal. … Cruise is three miles offshore into international waters. … 500-passenger Horizon's Edge sails from marina off Lynnway. No one under 21 permitted to board.

271 Cayuga Street
Union Springs
Distance: 184 miles
Gaming: 85 electronic bingo seats.
Notes: Located on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. … Co-owned and operated by the same management as Lakeside Gaming in Seneca Falls.

2552 State Rt. 89
Seneca Falls
(315) 568-0994
Distance: 186 miles
Gaming: 30 slot machines.
Notes: Co-owned and operated by the same management as Lakeside Entertainment in Union Springs.

Rockingham Park Boulevard
Salem, N.H.
(603) 898-2311
Distance: 188 miles
Gaming: 50 poker tables, plus poker tournaments, bingo, harness racing.
Notes: New England’s oldest horse track, founded in 1906. … Texas Hold 'em tournaments began last September and Rockingham now has the second largest poker room in New England, behind Foxwoods.

at Pocono Downs
1280 Highway 315
Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
(570) 831-2100
Distance: 193 miles
Gaming: 1,100 slot machines, with 300 of them in a no-smoking area of the two-floor facility. Horse racing on Pocono Downs track.
Notes: Five eateries, ranging from deli to full-service. … Affiliated with original Mohegan Sun resort casino in Connecticut.

150 Admiral Kalbfus Road
Newport, R.I.
(401) 849-5000
Distance: 196 miles
Gaming: 1,090 video slots, including line and reel games, poker, keno, & blackjack. Horse and greyhound race simulcasting.
Notes: Live entertainment at Club Royale. … Casual menu in the grill.

319 New Zealand Road, Route 107
Seabrook, N.H.
(603) 474-3065
Distance: 207 miles
Gaming: 40 poker tables, frequent tournaments. Greyhound and simulcast wagering.
Notes: Track-view dining room, bars and refreshment concessions.

The towers of the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT.

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