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. 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. With more than 5,000 machines, mostly on one floor 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 game 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.
Now that Empire City Casino is owned by MGM, it’s part of Mlife Rewards, which means you can earn comps and tier credits, as well as points that can be redeemed for comps or point play. This is great for those players who also play at Borgata, MGM Springfield, or their many Vegas properties, among others.
It follows the East Coast model of tier credit earning, vs. the more generous Vegas model, but having everything integrated into one system means your annual gambling can be rewarded on a broader level.
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.