Saturday, March 24, 2012

Gambling In My Neck Of The Woods: Boring. Turning Stone Casino Disappoints


The Good: A lot of the same video slot machines, Entertainment options
The Bad: Smoky, very smoky, Dark, Lack of "atmosphere," New old video slot machines.
The Basics: Smoky and monotonous as far as the gaming selection goes, Turning Stone banks on quantity, not quality.


Bitten, as I was, last summer by the Gambling Bug on my annual trip to Las Vegas, NV, I decided upon returning home that I might have to give my local casino(s) another pass. After all, it's tough to judge some of the big Las Vegas casinos without investigating their smaller-scale counterparts. I write those last few words somewhat tongue-in-cheek as I set to reviewing the Turning Stone Casino, a casino only ten miles from where I now live. It rivals the big Las Vegas casinos and it is getting bigger all the time.

It's almost too bad it's not all that great.

Turning Stone Casino: came in with $5.00, left with $5.00.

Location

Turning Stone is a huge casino located right off Exit 33 on Route 365 in Oneida, New York. This is about twenty-five minutes East of the Syracuse, New York and there are signs as one approaches that let visitors know it is coming up. It is one of the only major places in the area that is brightly lit at night (that and the local Wal-Mart). On-line mapping programs like MapQuest tend to have the proper location for the Turning Stone Casino in their database when using "Turning Stone" and "Oneida, NY."

Turning Stone has a massive parking area near the casino and that accommodates the casino, event center, and hotel.

Size/Atmosphere/"Atmosphere"

The Turning Stone Casino is a huge casino run by the Oneida Indian Nation. The casino is absolutely huge and it is spread out and continues to grow. All of the ceilings are high, all of the carpets are clean and the place feels like one massive hotel lobby. The lighting is rather dark, though, at all hours of the day so it feels like a movie theater in some ways. Outside the lighting, Turning Stone is spaced and dressed up like a hotel lobby. The main gaming floor is huge and situated with massive numbers of video slot machines headed in different directions to make traveling through them difficult; no matter how fast you want to get through this casino, you'll be obstructed by a bank of video slot machines if you keep moving forward.

The high ceilings should help dissipate the cigarette and cigar smoke that is prevalent in the casino, but for some reason the place still has a fairly potent tobacco scent. For those sensitive to such things, this remains a drawback to the Turning Stone. Ever since the first time I went to Turning Stone, the place has been smoky. Because it is run by the Oneida Nation, smoking is permitted (unlike in facilities that are run by New York State), but there is no alcohol allowed on the premises (periodically Turning Stone applies for a liquor license, but the locals tend to rally over the property taxes they don't make as a result of the casino and the license is always denied, even for New Year's Eve celebrations). So, you can't drink there and as a result the place is usually fairly thick with smoke.

As for the "atmosphere" of the Turning Stone, servers walk around offering soft drinks dressed in fairly conservative clothes; a black vest, slacks and a white shirt. Sigh. After visiting Las Vegas, it ought to be refreshing to see a place not trying so desperately to trade on sex appeal, but instead it just seems bland at Turning Stone. This is a rather modern-looking casino but there is nothing especially special about it to differentiate it from other casinos.

Also of note for the "atmosphere," Turning Stone's parking lots are policed by Turning Stone officers, not New York State troopers. This means that crimes that are committed there seldom get adequately investigated, much less prosecuted. Women, especially, ought to be careful in the parking lot at night. Having lived in the area for years and having friends who have worked at the casino, there are reasons to be concerned about such things.

Gaming Options/Player's Club

I have a very simple gambling philosophy: I sit down at a slot machine with $5.00. I work it up to $10 or down to zero. I know my limits: I can afford to lose $5.00. So, when I am above that, I'll usually work it up or whittle it down to the next even $5.00. Have a strategy, know your limits: the Turning Stone Casino worked quite well for me. I have had a card for years, but because of the smoky atmosphere and my politics, I tend not to go to the Turning Stone casino. On my latest trip, though, I simply rotated my five dollars; I got down under a dollar, hit a bonus round and decided to get out at the five dollars I found myself back at.

I tend to like the ones that are more girly themed or video game-like video slot machines. Turning Stone had a very standard selection of video slot machines, which was quite a disappointment after seeing all of the potentials in Las Vegas. I didn't expect them to necessarily have the brand new Star Trek video slot machine, but the various Star Wars ones have been out for years. Instead, I found a very typical selection of games, like Snow Globe, Alien, Magic Crystals, Lucky Leprechaun and something with Texas. The newest game I saw was Goldfish Gold and this was the first casino I have been to that had that, but not Mermaid's Gold. The Turning Stone Casino has a pretty lousy selection of video slot machines, but it has banks and banks and banks of each one. It was at the Turning Stone that I found the largest number of the Alien game I like playing. But the slots don't seem particularly loose at Turning Stone and going on a weekday morning, I found virtually everyone around me was losing, so I felt good to get out of there with my five bucks intact. Given that there are over two thousand video slot machines at Turning Stone it is difficult to express both the size and monotony of this place.

For those who might be into games of chance and card games instead of the fun and controlled reinforcement of video slot machines, there are tables with blackjack, Let-It-Ride, roulette and pai gow poker. This is definitely a place not only trading on slot/video poker play as they devote a fair amount of space to table games in the center of the casino. As well, there is a poker room where people play various forms of poker. There is also a bingo hall and it is consistently packed. In the Bingo hall, the Oneida's make an attempt to be lung-friendly with a pathetic nonsmoking area within the large hall.

There is a player's club at the Turning Stone. It has been so long since I signed up for it, but I do not recall getting anything when I first signed up. That might have changed by now. Points can be accrued on the slot machines and spent at the various specialty stores around the casino (my mother, for example, snagged a television using her ex-husband's points when he died a few years back).

Entertainment Options

The Turning Stone Casino boasts entertainment and there are shows that come periodically to the casino. They have a pretty impressive variety of people who come to the casino, including cable television cooks, the Indigo Girls, Pat Benetar, and even Mariah Carey came a few years back!

As well, there is a brand new golf course, which the Turning Stone is proud of, so periodically big shot golfers come to the casino. As well, there is a pool. For a people whose culture was all about respecting the Earth, the Oneida Indian Nation seems to have no problem with clearing away trees to build more buildings to keep expanding the casino. But, as I was informed when I was running for office, there is a difference between the Oneida culture and their business enterprises. Debating those differences is something of a local form of entertainment, so that's why I mention it in this section. I seem to recall there being a spa at the casino or in the works. Probably by the time I post this, they will have a movie theater, NFL team and satellite weapon's platform. Seriously, the place is always growing.

They have an arcade with a pinball machine that is pretty all right (they had Indiana Jones pinball, so they can't be all bad, right?).

Dining Options

Turning Stone has a buffet, an Emeril's restaurant and a very fancy sit-down restaurant. The menus range from casual deep-fried food to expensive world-class cuisine. Frankly, because of the smoke, I've never eaten there. Usually, by the time I work my way to one of the restaurants, I'm already sick from the smoke.

There is also a little pizza place in the casino and when I used to take my brother to Turning Stone for bingo, he used to eat the giant, greasy slices in front of me.

As well, there is a Starbuck's at Turning Stone now (our only one locally, if you can believe that!) and there is a wonderful place in the casino that sells fudge and baked goods. It is almost worth trudging through the smoke to get to the chocolate mint fudge there!

Shopping Options

Unlike Las Vegas casinos, Turning Stone Casino is not trading so much on shopping. There is an extensive shop for cashing in points offering everything from televisions to vacuum cleaners. It just occurred to me that I got my Finepix digital camera (reviewed here!) from Turning Stone thanks to my deceased former step father. I used it to take pictures of vastly superior casinos in Las Vegas . . .

As well, there is a smoke shop selling cigarettes, aspirin, and the like.

Overall

Turning Stone is pretty boring after seeing all of the options that Las Vegas offered. It's a good place for high school students to go after their prom to . . . I'm stretching; this casino may be huge, but it lacks variety, spice or anything even remotely distinctive, much like a generic amusement park, without a major roller coaster. You can have a hundred of the teacup ride, but that gets old quick and that is what Turning Stone Casino is like.

For other casino reviews, please check out my takes on:
MGM New York New York Casino
Hard Rock Cafe & Casino Las Vegas
The Rio Casino


4.5/10

For other travel reviews, please be sure to visit my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the destinations I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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