Decades ago, the Catskills were the number one summertime
entertainment destination for New Yorkers, before there was air
conditioning in every home and before you could jump on a flight to
anywhere for little money. Dozens of great comedians and singers
got their start in the legendary Catskill resorts like
Grossinger’s, the Concord, and Kutscher’s.
The list includes Woody Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry
Seinfeld, Sid Caesar, Billy Crystal, Buddy Hackett, Joan Rivers,
and Jerry Lewis.
And then times and tastes changed, and the Catskills ceased to
be the entertainment powerhouse and top-of-the-mind resort it had
been in the past.
The region is making a massive comeback, however, with the
advent of Resorts World Casino, a shiny new casino/spa/resort
project that opened less than two years ago on the site of the
former Concord Hotel. Its opening night performer? Jerry Seinfeld,
coming full circle to his Catskills roots.
RWC was almost 20 years in the making, as New York State
considered and reexamined its approach to casino gambling. Pretty
much all of the big gaming players, including MGM, Wynn, and
various Indian casino groups, vied for the location where Resorts
World Catskills was built. Resorts World somehow beat out the big
boys to land the coveted spot.
So it was never a question of retrofitting an older casino to
make it relevant for a new generation of high rollers, the
challenge facing legacy properties in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
Instead, the planners took the proverbial blank sheet of paper and
asking, “What would make the high roller experience perfect?”
and then RWC spared no expense to get that done.
There’s more to life than
gambling, even for high rollers. So let’s talk about the
amenities on the property. Resorts World Catskills offers the
Crystal Life Spa”, which comes from the Asia-based Crystal Cruise
Line and comes with the same high standards as one might expect on
Crystal’s ultra-luxurious ships. This is the only Crystal Cruise
spa on dry land, for that matter.
Two other properties on the “campus” include the Alder
Hotel, which includes the first TopGolf Swing Suite in New York
State, and the Kartrite Resort and Indoor Waterpark, a massive
indoor water park to occupy the kids while mom and dad are playing
baccarat or pai gow.
The hotel/casino caters to its international visitors. New York
is home to a massive Asian population, and of course New York is a
popular travel destination for individuals, couples, and families
visiting from all over Asia. To that end, Resorts World Catskills
offers two Asian restaurants with authentic menu items along with
fusion items that appeal to a Westernized palette as well. Indeed,
30% of the casino floor is dedicated to Asian casino games,
including the only location anywhere in the northeastern United
States where people can play pai gow tiles.
The resort partners with three nearby landmarks, and can provide
personal transportation to each. The first is the Woodbury Commons
outlet mall, widely regarded as the top mega-brand outlet mall
shopping experience in the United States. The resort can arrange
personal shoppers and other unique shopping experiences at Woodbury
Commons. Next is Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a nearby outdoor
concert venue created on the original site of the Woodstock
festival, which attracts such performers as James Taylor, and the
Eagles and Jackson Browne.
The third is unique –Monticello Motor Club, a private
motorsports country club with a 4.1 mile road track, off-road
course and go-karting track. Here, you can race Ferraris on the
track at over 100 mph, and you can even drive tanks, smashing
through old cars and anything else that gets in the way. Obviously
the casino wants you to stick around and gamble, but management
recognizes that if you extend your trip for another day or two in
order to accommodate the shopping and Ferrari racing, that means
you’ll spend another evening or two at the casino.
When it comes to audiences, most casinos try to be all things to
all people, providing the same level of attention to the “bus and
buffet” crowd to the high rollers. Unfortunately, in practice,
this means that the high rollers only get, say, a small segregated
area off the main gambling floor or just a few high minimum tables
right on the floor. True high rollers value discretion, which is
why once you come into the complex, you’re not rubbing shoulders
with the folks who are putting quarters into slots. You are
essentially on your own entertainment planet and that’s how
management wants it.
The food in most ways is everything you would expect from a
top-flight casino hotel. I say “in most ways” because there’s
no buffet, a conscious decision by management indicating what sort
of casino resort they intended. There’s nothing wrong with folks
who come up by bus to play the slots and grab a big meal at the
buffet, and indeed RWC has plenty of buses coming from Manhattan
and other nearby points for slots-loving day-trippers. But
there’s something about a buffet that signals, “We are really
not about the high roller.”
The economic impact of the Resorts World Catskills campus on the
surrounding community cannot be underestimated. With 1,600
employees, the casino is by far the largest provider of jobs in the
county and one of the biggest employers anywhere north of New York
City. The staff therefore exudes a combination of high-touch,
five-star resort service along with a small-town feeling, because
most of the people that work at the casino at any level reside in
the small towns adjacent to the campus. It’s a friendly, low-key
feeling that “big city” casinos are simply unable to match. Add
in the golf course currently under construction, the sportsbook
that’s about to open, the nature trails, the horseback riding,
and the overall beauty of the region, and you have a vacation
destination that’s never really been on the radar of
international travelers and is experiencing a resurgence with New
Yorkers as well.
One surprise about RWC – there’s no buffet. The message: we
love our day players but we’re really about the high rollers. The
resort offers a range of dining opportunities including Scott
Conant’s Cellaio, a top-flight restaurant where weekend
reservations must be made weeks in advance, and an Asian fusion
restaurant, Lotus, catering to American as well as traditional
Finally, the entire complex is non-smoking. This may not seem
like a big deal, but one of the least pleasant aspects of going to
a casino is the dirty recycled air. Casinos which permit smoking
which is pretty much all of them in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and
around the United States, spend fortunes on air filtration systems
which do a decent job of cleaning the second-hand smoke out of the
air but can never really get the environment 100% clean. Even
smokers visiting Resorts World Catskills remark on how nice and
clean the air is and how they don’t mind going outside to smoke,
all in the name of having a more pleasant experience inside the
From management’s perspective, the nonsmoking rule means that
they don’t have to spend nearly as much money cleaning out rooms,
replacing furniture and bedsheets that reek of smoke, and so on.
The nonsmoking rule contributes to a sense of cleanliness,
brightness and even cheerfulness that one typically does not
associate with big-time casinos.
How do high rollers discover Resorts World Catskills? Management
hired away some of the top casino hosts in the United States, and
they brought many of their “whales” with them. And then those
guests told their friends, and those friends told their friends,
with the result that 18 months since the opening, the hotel is
jam-packed on weekends and getting more and more full-on weekdays
as well. A weekend evening dinner reservation at Cellaio typically requires one to two weeks
In short, if you’re looking to have a unique high roller
experience in a beautiful part of the world you might never have
seen, while shopping America’s top brands with a personal shopper
and delighting your kids with a huge indoor water park, and then
going off to race Ferraris, and drive a real-live a tank, look no
further than Monticello, New York. The Catskill Mountains are
reclaiming their rightful position as the entertainment capital of
the Northeastern United States, and Resorts World Catskills is
leading the way.
The Catskills, Once America’s Entertainment Capital, Are Finally
Roaring Back appeared first on Grit Daily.