Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Another Pennsylvania Racino, "Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs" Would Be Great (But For The Smoke)!

The Good: Good games, Plenty of dining options, Great shopping options!
The Bad: Oppressively smoky atmosphere throughout.
The Basics: The fun at Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs is limited for nonsmoking gamblers by an indistinct and unenforced delineation between smoking and nonsmoking areas on the gaming floor.

I am completely ignorant to pretty much anything in the racing world. Be it NASCAR, horse racing, formula 1, soap box derby, pine derby, whatever, I know virtually nothing about racing (though I used to run track in middle and high school). The sum of my knowledge of horse racing, for example is that the "Triple Crown" refers to three horseraces, of which the Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby are two components. Oh, and that Seabiscuit is a horse, not a British delicacy.

Because of my staggering racing ignorance, it might seem odd that suddenly I have found myself at racetracks and I've been reviewing them. Well, actually, I've only been to a few racetrack and casino combinations (in the gambling world known as "racinos") and I tend to only go to the casino half. So, for example, on my recent trip to Maryland, I took a minor detour on the return trip to stop at the Hollywood Casino At Penn National Race Course (reviewed here!) which was a racino I enjoyed for the sheer diversity of video slots offered. On that same trip, as my mother and I meandered north toward home, we stopped at Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs, which is a casino attached to the Pocono Downs racetrack. We arrived there around eight p.m. on a Sunday night and spent a little over two hours gambling.

Mohegan Sun Casino: came in with $0.00, left with $0.00.


Mohegan Sun is a large slot-machine dominated casino located at 1280 Highway 315 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. This is just south of Scranton on Interstate 81 and Wilkes-Barre is a city with a pretty decent population. It is worth noting that while billboards alerted us to the exit off I-81, when we took exit 170B, there were no further signs and we ended up driving six miles down route 309 until we got directions, turned back and went to the first exit on 309 where the racino was. There were no signs until one is off the main highway and on the two-lane (each direction) road 315 (which they call a highway, but it's pretty much a standard road). Once on 315 there were a few small signs. However, as we approached, the brightest lit place - and largest - is Mohegan Sun.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs has a huge parking area, with several lots on hills around the casino that look virtually identical. As a result, we ended up looking for our car in the wrong lot, despite coming out the correct doors! There are VIP parking options and the free parking is the least accessible on the far side of the casino from the main entrance. I arrived in winter and at night, so I shall refrain from commenting on what grounds we were able to see.


Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs is an impressive racino in Northern Pennsylvania and it is immense. There is a map that came in handy, which illustrates how difficult it can be to find one's way around this racino unaided! Actually, the size issue is not as stifling as it might seem; the entire casino is in the center and is round with an open outer hallway that faces it. There are shops, boutiques, restaurants on the outer ring and while there is a long hallway to the high stakes slot machines, but the map helps one orient to where one parked given that the exits generally look alike.

The casino is spaced and dressed up like a mall. From virtually anywhere on the gaming floor by looking out at the outer ring, one sees stores or restaurants that are more brightly lit than the gaming floor. Of course, if one looks toward the center of the circle, one finds a bar scene and I declined to go into the central bar (I don't drink), but the people coming out of it were all better dressed than anyone playing the slot machines. The main gaming floor is large and is organized as a wheel around the bar. Banks of video slots are remarkably regular, though like many casinos, banks are arranged periodically perpendicular to one another so one may not walk too far in a straight line without running into more slot machines. The general pathway around the casino, though, is curved and the quickest way around Mohegan Sun is to either stay in the mall-like hallway off the gaming floor or go to the center and hug the outside of the bar.

Unfortunately, the high ceilings do little to dissipate the cigarette and cigar smoke that is prevalent in the casino. In fact the Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs casino would be a full point higher in my book were it not for the utterly oppressive cigarette and cigar smoke that chokes the establishment. There were occasional signs designating smoking and nonsmoking areas within the casino, but there was absolutely no enforcement of that and the delineation is absolutely ridiculous as the floor is an open area with no walls. The result is that smoke is everywhere and in the smoking area - where some of the best games were exclusively - no one enforces the nonsmoking border. My throat, which had been dried out from smoke at the first casino was just torn up by the smoke at Mohegan Sun. The atmosphere is entirely unpleasant and is a huge drawback to this racino. I've never been so happy for a great shampoo as I was after I got home from this Mohegan Sun (there are other Mohegan Sun casinos and this is loosely affiliated with them). The Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs casino is a twenty-four hour a day, open all year racino.

As for the "atmosphere" of the Mohegan Sun, this is a casino trading on the gambling AND shopping, so there is a surprisingly family friendly atmosphere to it. The women serving drinks on the casino floor wore short shorts and sleeveless button-down shirts. The floor was well stocked with workers for security and maintenance, even on a Sunday night, lending to a very safe feeling. Were it not for all of the smoke in the air, this would have been a remarkably fun casino to play at. That said, this is more family-friendly and the staff reflects more practicality than the voyeuristic joys of the Las Vegas casinos.

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. At Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs, I abandoned that philosophy, though. The reason for this was pretty simple: by signing up for the player's club card, Mohegan Sun gave me ten dollars in free play to play machines with! Why risk my $5.00 when I can play with their $10?!

Even with a pretty limited gambling experience, I know what I like when it comes to video slot machines: I like the ones that are fun! If I'm winning, I would rather do it on a machine I enjoy and if I lose, I would rather do that on a machine that I am having fun playing regardless. I like machines with interesting graphics and great bonus games. I tend to enjoy the slots that are more girly themed or video game-like, and I was hugely disappointed when I was at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs to see one of my favorite video slots firmly in the smoking area. Mohegan Sun had the video slot machine based on The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here!) which I played a lot in Las Vegas last summer and fell in love with. Rather ridiculously for a casino with over twenty-five hundred video slot machines they only had three of this exceptional game! There were lines behind each of the three machines the entire time I was there.

Still, there were a ton of video slot machines and traditional slot machines to have fun on. I ended up enjoying myself on Crystal Enchantment and "It Paid From Outer Space!" There were several machines that were new to me, but the line-up included several machines I seem to find everywhere, like Leapin' Lemmings, Pot O'Gold, Enchanted Forest, Deal Or No Deal, Goldfish Gold, "Wheel Of Fortune," "Moo-lah," Houdini, Hexcraft, Cleopatra and hundreds of others. The Mohegan Sun Casino had an impressive selection, but there were very few of many of the best ones. As a result, there were banks of actual slot machines that were empty during my visit to Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs, but video slots that had people waiting to use them because there were only two or three of the machine. My mother, for example, waited half an hour just to play a chicken-themed video slot machine (she won a bit off it, so it was worth her waiting). The result is a weird mix of diversity and emptiness; it is tough to say there are a lot of choices when one turns the corner and finds only one of their coveted machine.

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 "virtual" table games at the far end of the casino near the high-stakes slot machines. These are ridiculous-looking tables with computer screens and computerized cards and there is no way to convince a geek like me that the computers are on the level! In that same area, there was a sports bar for and a simulcast center for betting on sports events and horse racing both at the track and around the world.

There is a player's club at the Mohegan Sun, which is simply the Mohegan Sun Player's Club. As of this writing, Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs is not attached to the Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut and as a result, players need to get the card for this racino in order to accumulate points or get the other benefits of being a new member. Signing up is easy. Simply present a driver's license at the player's club center and get a card. Signing up nets the visitor ten dollars in free play and the staff provided easy-to-follow directions on how to access the free play points on the card. Because I only played using the free dollars, I was not attentive to the accumulation of points and I recall there was no obvious display of points when I inserted my card.

Entertainment Options

The Mohegan Sun is light on entertainment outside the race track. In fact, I saw no advertisements for anything as far as entertainment goes and in all of the paperwork I picked up from the casino, there was no mention of any forthcoming entertainment.

Dining Options

We arrived at Mohegan Sun at night and did not end up eating there, though I was sorely tempted to get something at the Ben & Jerry's shop (did I mention this is like a mall?). In addition to mall-like shops like Ben & Jerry's, Wolfgang Puck Express, Johnny Rockets, and a hot dog shop and a coffee house, there was the standard buffet. The Timbers Buffet was open late and everything we saw when we peeked in looked good and given that it was away from the gaming floor and the smoke, it is a place I might be tempted to return to in the future.

For those who do not do buffets, there was a bar, suhi bar and a steakhouse. The food looked good everywhere and prices range, from the reasonable to the expensive.

Shopping Options

Mohegan Sun At Pocono Downs is, as I mentioned, like a mall with a casino in its center. This casino has its own radio station, though there was no one in the booth when we were there. There are several shopping options with recognizable names like Brookstone and Misura. There was a wine and cheese shop I considered spending my winnings at (if only I had made any!) and while all of the shopping options were pricey, it made for a very different feel to the casino and encouraged players to spend their winnings . . . or keep playing on the hope of earning enough for some coveted trinket.


Mohegan Sun would be a lot more fun if it weren't for the smoky atmosphere and it is hard to believe Pennsylvania has such anemic anti-smoking laws that there would be no requirements for any form of wall between smoking and nonsmoking areas. But that is exactly what this casino needs in order for me to go back there.

For other casino reviews, please check out my takes on:
Mohegan Sun
Seneca Niagara Casino


For other casino reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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