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What’s new in gaming

Downs Casino
Courtesy Downs Racetrack and Casino
Last year saw a slew of new casino openings in the east, and this year’s new casino developments, from New Mexico and Nevada to New Jersey, Ohio, and Louisiana, are shoring up gaming in new areas while bringing high-technology options to existing enclaves.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Downs Racetrack expanded with a new casino add-on to its downtown facility this summer. Although three major casinos opened in Ohio last year, one of the most exciting openings is happening this month, with the debut of the Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield Park.

Existing casinos are getting groundbreaking face-lifts across the country, particularly in Las Vegas, where Caesars will soon be rolling out the largest Ferris wheel in the world. The Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, Louisiana, has introduced a new premier hotel, the Seven Clans, from the DreamCatcher brand. And across the country, video poker bars are popping up everywhere, offering a new mix of dining, live gaming and socializing.

The Downs Racetrack and Casino
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Timed to coincide with the beginning of racing season, the Downs Racetrack and Casino, the only casino within Albuquerque city limits, opened last August with tens of thousands of visitors for its first weekend.

The 65,000-square-foot casino, with 700 slot machines, virtual racing and electronic table games, complements the pre-existing live racing track, which was renovated for the grand opening.

“Our advantage is that we’re right in the heart of the city,” said chief operating officer Scott Eldredge. “There are tribal casinos on the outskirts, but we have all the comforts right in the heart of town and the convenience of being just five minutes off the freeway.”

For meals, groups can rent the entire 40-seat Crowne Room or the 200-seat patio, or use a private area of the 400-seat food hall or the 50-seat First Turn Lounge with views of the racetrack and 20 craft beers and microbrews on tap.

The Downs does not have its own hotel, but the casino has accommodation partnerships for visiting groups.

“We partnered with the Marriott just down the road and another hotel at the airport, one even closer to I-40 than we are,” said Eldredge. “We can be very flexible. We can handle the whole solution and do it turnkey, or connect them to the hotel.”

Video Poker Bars
Las Vegas
With the rise of online poker, 20- and 30-somethings visiting casinos are often looking for a different type of poker experience, giving rise to the video poker bar.

Often focused on high-end cocktails in a lounge environment, the video poker bar trend is epitomized by the new Whisky Down at the MGM Grand. Focused on its namesake, the lounge pours a variety of American, Canadian, Irish and Scotch whiskies while players use the video poker machines at its 64-seat bar.

Las Vegas’ 122,608-square-foot Palace Station Hotel and Casino, west of the Strip, launched its video poker bar this summer just steps away from the poker tables. According to Lori Nelson, vice president of corporate communications for Station Casinos, “the Casino Bar is the spot for those looking to play while enjoying their favorite cocktails.”

Station Casino’s Casino Bar replaces the Louie Anderson Theater, with 30 video poker machines around the bar and 55-inch flat screens above, keeping patrons tuned in to all the current sports games.

Gabi Logan

Gabi Logan is a freelance travel journalist whose work has also appeared in USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News and Italy Magazine. As she travels more than 100,000 miles each year, she aims to discover the unexpected wonder in every destination.