Empire City Casino has an enviable location, being near the millions of people that call New York City home. Yet it is also not the most accessible either, and because of its attachment to a horse racing facility has some unusual gaming rules that its new owner MGM hopes to change in the coming years.
Still, it is a huge property in a relatively prime location, and as someone who at one point lived near the NY-CT border, I played there relatively frequently for a time. More recently, I paid a fresh visit to the casino in spring 2022, this review was last updated April of 2022 to incorporate those thoughts. Here are my experiences with the racino.
As the casino is effectively attached to Yonkers Raceway, the property sprawls on one side of the race track from one end to the other. There’s more than 5,000 machines, mostly on one floor, although there are a few machines and a high limit room upstairs.
There’s a few things that are different about the property. First off, they’re not actually slots – it’s gaming machines operated under the oversight of the New York Lottery and in practice work like scratch tickets – there’s a predetermined set of winners and losers over a certain number of outcomes, and each spin of the machine is the purchase of a ticket.
As a result of this, all machines are required by state law to pay back at least 90 percent, even penny machines, which in other states, as reported here in the past, pay less than that. For low denomination players that are in the area this can make the games a bit more advantageous.
The casino has a ton of progressive driven games – they are very popular here. They’re popular everywhere now, but they’re certainly popular here. And I’ve seen some spectacular wins on the floor just within my own range of vision, so players do seem to have some good luck here (probably helped out by that payback).
Another side effect of this arrangement is Empire City is not allowed actual dealer tables, so they have electronic versions of Craps, Roulette, Blackjack and so on throughout the casino in pretty heavy numbers, both newer and older systems.
Because it’s a lottery-based system, a couple of other differing details is that you can play at the age of 18, and that above $600 (but below a true handpay) you get a voucher that must be redeemed at the cashier.
Finally, the use of the “scratcher” model means that the video poker machines shown on the floor are not based on a deck of cards but a predetermined outcome, so they are not skill-driven outcomes but what the game has already decided it will pay you.
This use of a system where the outcome is determined first but then the machine renders an outcome can lead to your seeing repeat screen outcomes with the same prize. I’ve seen a player at a New York Lottery casino get identical Fire Link bonuses with the balls in the exact same spots and the prize being identical.
It’s not worse or better or anything than Vegas-style slot machines – it’s just different.
Another side effect of this system, which is pretty rare and only used at a certain number of casinos in New York, is that the casino floor evolves much more slowly than facilities buying the much more common Vegas-style slot machines. Walking into this casino feels like a time warp, in that a good percentage of the same games are in the exact same places as they were 4-5 years ago when I first visited this casino.
Yes, there are new games, and yes, some small parts of the floor saw some updates, but it was mildly surprising how little has changed on the other side of the pandemic, where many casinos made more substantial overhauls to the casino floors, including and in particular many MGM-owned casinos.
My only thought is they may be waiting to make the investments until they know whether they can convert to a more traditional casino model with Vegas-style slots and live table games. That possibility may come to a resolution in the next year or two, so they’re probably waiting for that outcome before doing anything more substantial.
Now that Empire City Casino is owned by MGM, it’s part of MGM Rewards, which means you can earn tier credits that link to the same program as many other casinos nationwide. This is great for those players who also play at Borgata, MGM Springfield, or their many Vegas properties, among others.
With the shift to MGM Rewards, it uses a more opaque model of earning tier credits and what they call VLT Dollars, which are used as comp dollars there because their system is still different than all the others. I didn’t see any MGM Rewards Points accrue at all during my visit.
I did see slot dollars also accrue, which can’t be redeemed there, at the same general rate as the VLT Dollars on screen (this balance was also shown on the kiosk). The balances were different on screen than on the app, so I don’t know if you’re earning in two buckets, like any other MGM property, or if this is one of the quirks of the separate system this casino is currently on.
Given it’s a racino, you’re not going to find a full resort’s amenities, but you will find the ability to bet on races, including live racing, which can be a draw for some.
There is a food court, a cafe and a few sit down eating options, all of which are pretty solid from my experiences there. Lil’ Cocina is good for quick grab items, and The Pub has good sports bar fare.
MGM has been lobbying to convert the property into a more traditional casino, which would mean the likely addition of more casino-centric amenities. But for now, what is offered is actually pretty decent, especially in the more player-friendly payback scenarios. So if you’re in the vicinity, it can be worth a visit.