Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Near-Perfection In The Middle Of Nowhere, Odawa Casino Is A Pleasant Surprise!

The Good: Great games, Decent atmosphere, Wonderful buffet, Friendly staff, Sensible player’s club system.
The Bad: Nonsmoking area is a joke, Light on entertainment options
The Basics: Easily the best casino in Michigan, Odawa Casino is a delightful getaway for gamblers!

Yesterday, my wife and I had a day trip to Petosky rather suddenly when her doctor’s appointment for the day was inconveniently rescheduled for an entire month. She has been wanting to go there to visit Odawa Casino and I was game, for several reasons. I love spending time with my wife and going to new (to us) casinos was part of our early courting, so it was exciting to revisit that part of our relationship.

Odawa Casino represents the first casino I have visited since I began online gaming and wrote my article on how IGT and Facebook video slots might be the demise of actual casinos (that article is here!). Ironically, Odawa Casino put some of those theories to the test for me; High 5 Casino, which my wife and I love on Facebook, has been advertising a new game “The Lovely Outlaws” which is expected to be presented on that platform in about two weeks. When I was down to my last $5 at Odawa Casino and I saw a bank that included that game, I decided I wanted to see what “The Lovely Outlaws” was all about and I ended up getting up over $20 on the machine! IGT’s use of Facebook gaming to advertise their real-life video slot machines was unsurprisingly effective.

As for the casino itself, Odawa Casino left me entirely impressed. To date, no casino has earned a perfect (10/10) rating from me. Odawa Casino comes closest and is, by the ratings, the best casino I have yet been to for enjoyment and review! Who would have guessed in Petosky, Michigan, there would be such an awesome casino. The Odawa Casino is an enterprise of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and a nice place with a great selection of video slot machines and wonderful food.

Odawa Casino: came in with $40.00, left with $45.00 (and two exceptionally full stomachs!).


Odawa Casino is a decent-sized casino located at 1760 Lears Road in Petosky, Michigan. This is in the middle of nowhere in Northern Michigan near Traverse City and easily found by numerous signs on MI-131 and US-75. Odawa Casino is set on a hill near Boyne Mountain (and ski resort).

Odawa Casino has a large parking area near the casino and it is hard to imagine what it would look like all filled up! Rather smartly, Odawa Casino features a parking area for snowmobilers, appealing to the outdoorsy gamblers and when we went yesterday, there were numerous snow enthusiasts taking advantage of that additional, specialized, parking. It was only about a two minute walk from the parking area into the front of the casino and we saw a shuttle, so there are a number of accommodations for those who do not want to wander or hike long distances to get in to gamble.

Truth be told, Odawa Casino is a beautiful building out in the middle of nowhere. It is the destination in an area where there is really nothing else for about twenty miles.


The Odawa Casino is a fairly large Indian-run casino in the midwest and it feels like it is capitalizing on the space it has. All of the ceilings are very high, all of the carpets are clean (though the colorscheme of the one in the buffet restaurant is hideous!) and the place feels like one massive hotel lobby. Odawa Casino is a universally brightly-lit facility and it has a warmth and comfortable feel to it that is very inviting. The security personnel at the front of the lobby were very friendly and courteous as they asked my young wife for identification.

The casino is spaced and dressed up like a hotel lobby. The main gaming floor is quite large and takes advantage of curved walls to give the place a feeling of continuity. There were times we got turned around on the gaming floor and ended up back at the front of the casino without making any hard turns. Odawa Casino is spaced comfortably and arranged for ease of movement. Banks of video slots are remarkably regular and unlike most casinos, one may travel along a bank of them for quite some time before running into a perpendicular bank, which prevents one from doing anything but turning or taking a seat and playing.

The high ceilings should help dissipate the cigarette and cigar smoke that is prevalent in the casino and Odawa Casino did not have an oppressive smoky smell to it, which was nice. However, as a non-smoker, the token gaming room for non-smokers is insulting. With less than a hundred video slot machines, the non-smoking room is nestled in the back (which means, rather stupidly, one has to go through the entire smoking part of the casino to reach it!) and filled with older, particularly lame video slot machines.

As for the "atmosphere" of the Odawa, this is a casino trading on the gambling, not much more. The workers on the casino floor all wore suits and pantsuits. Women are in no way exploited in this environment by uncomfortable costumes and the waitstaff in the restaurant and the workers on the floor all seemed equally cheerful. At Odawa Casino, we had a few machines that had issues – paper jams and doors being considered open – but it never took more than two minutes for us to track down an attendant and have our machine’s problems dealt with. Odawa Casino has the most friendly atmosphere of any casino we have visited.

Gaming Options/Player's Club

I have a very simple gambling philosophy: I sit down at a slot machine with whatever amount of money I have, usually $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 Odawa Casino worked quite well for me. I arrived, signed up for the player's club card and sat down with the twenty dollars my wife gave me as a surprised day out gift. She had her twenty as well. I played several games, but went down to $5 before hitting a good bonus game that got me up to $25, which (given that it was around lunch time and we were eager to try the buffet) translated into lunch money for the two of us! My wife played longer and transformed her $20 into $45 before we left. We were able to play thirty machines, rotating money up and down, before I went out and she decided to call it quits. Given that our initial $40 lasted us over four hours and we left ahead and full of food, the odds at Odawa Casino seemed to be very good for a Monday morning play.

Having had pretty extensive experience with the video slot machines, I know what I like. I tend to enjoy the slots that are more girly themed or video game-like and IGT seems to have a number of winners I truly love. Odawa Casino had a surprisingly excellent collection of video slot machines, including some I had never seen before! Some of the new games they were highlighting included Deal Of No Deal, Black Widow, a newer Monopoly game, a new (and different) The Wizard Of Oz game, The Beverly Hillbillies, and the new one based on Cheers (reviewed here!)! My wife and I were so psyched to see the Cheers game and we kept trying to get on it until we actually watched the people lodged firmly there playing it. When the Frasier Crane symbol comes up stacked on multiple reels, making at 5-of-a-kind at least one way and the thirty cent-per-spin game pays out only $.99, we decided that the machine was engineered to be stupidly tight and did not play it (seriously, if multiple three, four, and five-of-a-kind wins only get you back three times your bet, the machine stinks!). In addition to the new and fresh games, Odawa Casino had a slew of the standard video slot machines I see at most casinos, like Wild Huskies, Frog Prince, Hexcraft, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Ducks In A Row (which was the tightest version of this game we have ever played!), Sea Monkeys, Cleopatra and hundreds of others. The Odawa Casino had an impressive selection and Odawa Casino has games mixed together for variety, as opposed to huge banks of the same games stuck together. While major games like Cheers, KISS, and The Wizard Of Oz had segregated islands with just the two machines of each game, most of the games could be found in multiple locations on the gaming floor. Given that there are thousands of video slot machines at Odawa Casino, it is surprising the variety of games they have throughout the casino.

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 several card tables, plus a poker room. This is definitely a place trading mostly on slot/video poker play as they devote very little space to the blackjack tables, though the only real differentiation in that section of the casino is now much it costs to bet at the table and how many decks of cards they are playing with. I did not look to see if they had roulette or keno.

There is a player's club at the Odawa, which is the Optimum Rewards card. Signing up is easy. Simply present a driver's license at the player's club center and get a card. For signing up, we each got a spin on a specialized machine (which gave us nothing). On-line, when we got home, their Facebook page said new players get $10 in free play, but we did not. However, we were told that with the first fifty points we accrued, we would get $10 in free play. Points at Odawa Casino are very clearly and sensibly accrued; for every two dollars one plays, they earn a point. So, to get the 50 points we needed to get $10 in free play, we needed to cycle through $100. However, because point accrual is based on spins, when my wife earned her 50 points, we still had $40 between us. Getting the $10 in free play encouraged us to play a higher-bet game than we are usually comfortable with, but that paid off for us, rather nicely (and was fun). We did not visit the shopping areas to see how we could spend our points. However, simply showing our card at the Waas-No-De Buffet got us a discount that was almost enough to accommodate the tip we left our server (always tip your waitresses, even at a casino buffet!).

Entertainment Options

The Odawa Casino is quite light on entertainment. While we were there the only things advertised in the way of entertainment was “Nationally recognized comics.” Given how hard it must be to get performers to brave the snow and cold of Northern Michigan, it is understandable that a relatively new casino like Odawa Casino would be working up to getting first-rate entertainment. But, as that is a draw of casinos, it is hard to call the casino perfect when it lacks entertainment options outside the gaming floor.

Dining Options

We arrived at Odawa Casino in the early afternoon. The base price for the Breakfast/Lunch buffet at Waas-No-De Buffet was $9.99/each, but with our players card, it ended up being less than $17. What instantly impressed us was that “Breakfast/Lunch” Buffet meant that at 3 P.M. (an hour before the buffet switched over to dinner prices) there were actual breakfast options, like potato, egg, and cheese casserole, sausage, bacon, pancakes, corned beef hash and sausage biscuits and gravy! As well, there was a pretty impressive lunch selection from chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and gravy to chicken alfredo rainbow tortellini, bean burritos, spring rolls, pot stickers, and a small carving station of meats. The desserts were little works of art (the pastry chef seemed very concerned –as we were arriving late – that the new pieces he was working on would be fresher and available in 20 minutes, but the chocolate mousse I had and the cake my wife partook of was extraordinary) and delicious. What impressed us about the buffet, outside the price and the relatively good selection (where else has potato leek soup in a buffet?!) was how everything – every single option – was hot. One hour before the buffet made its changeover and everything was hot and delicious as if it had just come out of the oven. We gorged ourselves for about forty-five minutes all told in the buffet and even our later portions were delightfully hot.

In addition, there was a coffee cafe, a sit-down restaurant, and a centralized, fancy bar on the gaming floor. For easy refreshment, there is a drink station with coffee and soft drinks. This was not clearly marked as self-serve, but it was a nice perk, especially considering that in our four hours at Odawa Casino, only once did a member of the floor staff stop by to ask us if we wanted a drink.

Shopping Options

Odawa Casino is not trading so much on shopping. We saw two gift shop-like stores at the casino, but did not investigate them fully.


Odawa Casino is clean, not dominated by a smoky smell, and has great games for video slot players. Were it located less remotely and able to bring entertainment options, it would be a proper destination for a wider sense of entertainment than just gambling. But, for what it is, Odawa Casino is an exceptional casino where the staff is friendly, the slots are fairly loose, the food is good and the atmosphere encourages one to want to stay a long time to play at their incredible variety of video slot machines.

For other Michigan casino reviews, please check out my takes on:
Greektown Casino – Detroit
Soaring Eagle Casino – Mount Pleasant
Turtle Creek Casino – Traverse City


For other travel reviews, please be sure to visit my Travel Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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