Review:”Gambling on the East Coast: The Mohegan Sun & Foxwoods Casino”

Last Updated on August 29, 2009 by Christine Kaaloa

When you’ve been to Las Vegas oh, “umpteenth times” like I have, you don’t really think of  slot machines and black jack tables existing beyond the western border.  But visiting casinos without the  fun parks, roller coaster rides or headlining entertainment acts? Uh, you just have to really enjoy gambling for the sake of gambling, which I do not.  Nevertheless, Hawaii people have a strange addiction to Las Vegas and my family is no exception to the lures of Sin City.

Just another casino?…

For me, Las Vegas  stands for that half-way mark where I can spend time with my visiting “gambler”  family without having to cross the Pacific Ocean. What keeps me from my casino yawn are the neon lights, big screen displays of show previews and nightclub splash, celebrity impersonators, Cirque du Soleil and the fact that every hotel casino I enter invites me into a Universal Studios’ version of simulated life (the ex-art director in me who used to design for thematic parties- and some slot L.V. tournaments.- appreciates this…).

But ask me about casinos on the east coast, aside from the ashtray of Atlantic City?  Never knew they existed. With my sister and her Hawaii teammates in town for a canoe regatta, the “islander gambling bugs” had their curiosities peaked on Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.  I went along for the entertaining ride…

Surviving wonky GPS driving directions from New York City to the Connecticut

We left around noon in our Thrifty car rental for what we estimated to be a 3 hour drive.  All was going smoothly until our Magellan GPS re-routed us to New Jersey before reaching the Connecticut turnoff.   The thing about technology reliance these days is that 1) when you’ve got a GPS, you don’t think to take a map with you as a backup and 2) you get to trusting your GPS technology even when all logic and instinct tells you its been giving you bum directions. Two hours and one broken Magellan GPS later, we realize  that we’re headed deeper and deeper into New Jersey and our GPS has no intention on turning us around. Luckily, my mobile phone had Google Maps (technology again, I know, but this app has a proven record of coming in handy)

So it actually took us 5-6 hours to get there, but finally…

Welcome to the Mohegan Sun Casino and Hotel

Built upon Native American Indian reserve, the Mohegan Sun Casino was a dazzling example of east coasters wanting their own money clinks  and not being afraid to be big and loud about it.  Those who think they might catch a glimpse of indigenous history in the form of an actual reserve (which honestly, was my interest…) will be disappointed, as the first thing you’re greeted by is a stadium-sized parking lot full of indigenous asphalt.  The casino itself is Native American Indian-themed designs on steroids, amped up to compete with the Vegas strip’s sadistically chic, splashy and stylish, while offering (thankfully) diminutive “cheese”. Intricately beaded fabrics and artwork, a mechanical wolf on a simulated mountain peak and giant Native American painting of a warrior reaching to the sun,…all-powerful and gorgeous.  The casino is huge and we were all in captivated awe at the spectacle of it.

Cool design concept and a sad lack of follow through

One seriously cool thing was a stylishly-designed bar, perched above the casino floor on a glowing crystal mountain.  The bar sported  a simulated constellation so that you could drink “under the stars” at any time of the day (while also throwing your time clock off).

Unfortunately, the drink menu was pretty unimaginative. But it offers you a cup of breadstick pretzels!

Now if you’re going to have a theme design, then the art director in me thinks you should carry the concept through. Just spouting the endless creative possibilities of fun (not to be offensive)…The Tomohawk, TeePee, Sitting Bear, Wolf pack, Eagles’ Nest, etc… for signature drinks or restaurant names would have been pretty fun and cool. Nope.

Las Vegas on a smaller scale?

The shopping area was much smaller and less prominent than Caesar’s Palace, LV but the restaurant options allowed a greater dynamic of pricey to semi-cheap eats. Perhaps  my only disappointment with the casino was that it ironically held a strong preference for the east coast version of Asian cuisine (aka “kind of bland and watery”) and the only Native American Indian cooking  found on the premises was in a gift shop recipe book.  Also, no Michael Jackson or Madonna  impersonators; something of the campiness that I actually appreciate Vegas for. However, the casino does hold huge concerts with top-notch visiting celebrity rockers or Vegas style entertainment like Sting or Howie Mandel.

By the time we left, it was roughly around 10P. The Mohegan Sun hotel was actually booked up due to a concert, so an overnight stay wasn’t possible.

But there was just enough time to squeeze in a peek at Foxwoods casino (10 min away) before driving back.

Foxwoods Casino: big but perhaps, not grand.

Foxwoods Casino is heralded as the biggest casino in the world and it quite possibly is. However, after the chic and splashy design of the Mohegan, Foxwoods can be overlooked. It doesn’t make a very loud or stylish statement.

Foxwoods’ parking lot easily spanned the size of Disneyland’s but the walk over from its sister casino– the MGM–  thru the looong corridor of shops,  restaurants and space to the heart of the casino… convinced me that if there is a next time, I’ll bust out my aerobic pants and iPod and make it a workout.

We didn’t spend much time here so unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you what the big draw to Foxwoods is but I will leave you with this.

My three highlights of f Foxwoods casino:

•  Of my walking shoes in blurred motion

•  The Mahjong room (or whatever that room was called that was filled with Chinese table games):

It was my first experience of feeling like I was an American tourist visiting a casino abroad in Asia.  Everyone in this room was old and asian from the thick except, for the dealers and everything was written in chinese signs or symbols.  (The chinese must be just as big gamblers as Hawaii people!)

•  The Poker room:

I never watched the World Series of Poker but this is what I imagine I’d see if I did.  The air was stiff and quiet like a library with the intense factor times 10 (you could “feel the money”). Rows and rows of green tables with men being boys and taking their game very seriously.


Getting there from New York City:

The Mohegan Sun Hotel & Casino
Driving Time: 3 hours NYC to Connecticut- if your GPS (Magellan) is correct and doesn’t take you to New Jersey
Needed: 2 GPS’s or 1 road map

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