Those who live in and around New York City need not fly across the country to experience some of the excitement of Las Vegas. Resorts World Catskills, which opened in February 2018, is a sprawling, Las Vegas-style casino resort hotel closer to home.
The property boasts 1,600 state-of-the-art slot machines, and over 150 live table games housed in an 18-story, all-suite luxury hotel. The casino has the largest poker room in New York State with 20 tables, hosting tournaments every day of the week.
An exclusive high limit gaming area on the third-floor offers private gambling salons and a VIP lounge. Whales can even arrive on the property via a private helipad, where they’re met by a butler.
The resort is one of only four commercial casinos approved by the state to offer a sportsbook (sports betting). At the casino’s 6000-square foot Sportsbook 360, gamblers can legally bet on competitive sports games at fourteen betting kiosks open around-the-clock or at a betting counter.
But does the casino resort offer glitz and glamour?
Nestled amidst the Catskill Mountains in Monticello, New York, this relatively new resort encompasses some 1800 acres and is located on the former site of the now-demolished Concord Hotel, once a mecca in the Borscht Belt.
Granted, the Village of Monticello (Sullivan County), New York bears little resemblance to the vibrant Las Vegas Strip. After the demise of the area’s resort hotels that were thriving hotspots in the 50s, the region fell into decline with shuttered businesses and high rates of unemployment.
In 2013, New York State enacted legislation to expand casino gambling to four economically depressed areas of the state, paving the way for the construction of the new $1.2 billion Resort World Catskills.
During the third quarter of 2019, the resort’s parent company, Empire Resorts, reported operating losses of $26.4 million. To avert bankruptcy, shareholders of the struggling casino resort approved its sale in mid-November to its largest shareholders, Kien Huat Realty and Genting Malaysia. The principal’s experience in the gaming industry—coupled with their financial wherewithal—hold the potential to turn things around.
Unlike the windowless casinos in Vegas, the inviting design of Resorts World Catskills (by JCJ Architecture) takes full advantage of the natural surroundings. Massive floor-to-ceiling windows allow in natural light as well as a dose of the real-world outside, including views of the treetops. The mirror-like exterior of the towering, contemporary tower reflects the colors and textures of the serene setting, changing its appearance with the movement of the sun and clouds.
The 334 guest rooms are impressive in size: Even the smallest Queen and King Suites measure 650 square feet or more; two-story villas are more than 2000 square feet. Tastefully furnished in modern decor with eye-pleasing neutral tones, all of these luxury suites offer scenic views, pillow-top mattresses, and upscale amenities (including 55” flat-screen TV), and spacious, contemporary bathrooms with double sinks, sit-down vanities, glass-enclosed showers and Molton Brown toiletries.
A 105-room lifestyle hotel adjacent to the main building opened its doors in December 2018. The Alder offers a younger, more minimalist and more affordable aesthetic with access to all the hotel amenities next door.
In addition to a number of casual eateries, the resort complex has two popular fine dining restaurants that require advance reservations, and that can be expensive, even by New York standards: Cellaio (Scott Conant’s Italian steakhouse) and Lotus (serving Chinese and pan-Asian fare). There is also a 24/7 diner-themed Bistro—complete with a counter, stools and booths—and even some retro Catskill dishes on the menu.
The chance to savor dinner and wines at Celebrity Chef Scott Conant’s Cellaio may be reason enough to visit the resort. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Chef Conant opened L’Impero in Manhattan in 2002, which received a coveted three-star review from the New York Times, and owned and operated other successful restaurants from coast-to-coast, including Scarpetta. Early in his career, he had the distinction of being named one of America’s Best New Chefs by Food & Wine. Emphasizing aged steaks, fresh seafood and homemade pastas, Cellaio has garnered a reputation as a sophisticated, destination restaurant known for its interesting and extensive menu, high-quality ingredients, skillful preparation and artistic plating.
Other resort amenities include a Topgolf Swing Suite, an indoor pool and fitness center, and the Crystal Life Spa (the first time a Crystal Cruises’ spa has been replicated on land). For those traveling with family, the proximity of the four-season Kartrite Resort & Indoor Water Park is another perk.
Resorts World Catskills is still a work in progress. One of the most common complaints on social media is that the resort’s service is not up to par. That’s not surprising given that the owners needed to quickly recruit, hire and train some 1,400 workers.
Compared to Las Vegas, Resorts World Catskills has a paucity of entertainment and nightclub options—apart from gambling. Besides DJs, karaoke nights, trivia contests, mixology classes, cooking demos and the like, the resort only occasionally books musical headliners or comedians, usually on weekends and holidays as a way of drawing people to the gaming tables. The entertainment fare simply doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of the production shows that visitors to Vegas can see any night of the week.
Despite its growing pains, many are confident that Resorts World Catskills will mature into a viable Vegas-alternative. As opposed to gambling at places like Genting’s Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Race Track in Jamaica (Queens) or at Empire City Casino in Yonkers (Westchester County), New York, the Catskills complex offers the ambiance of a mountain resort getaway for a weekday, weekend or more with a full-service resort casino.
Hopefully, now that the resort is on a more stable financial footing, the new ownership will be able to steward it to its full Las Vegas-style potential.