Looking for Lady Luck

September 18, 2014  
Filed under Feature Stories

Akwesasne Mowhawk Casino’s gaming floor.  (Photo by Matt Weeks courtesty of Akwsasne Mohawk Casino)

Akwesasne Mowhawk Casino’s gaming floor.
(Photo by Matt Weeks courtesty of Akwsasne Mohawk Casino)

By Matt Sutkoski

As investment strategies go, gambling might not be the most reliable choice for increasing your wealth, but it could well be the most fun.
While Vermont is by no stretch of the imagination a gambling haven, people from the Green Mountain State have enough nearby options to try their luck.
The Akewsasne Mohawk Casino in Hogensburg, New York is perhaps the most accessible gambling center, but it’s also easy to (maybe) win your fortune up in Montreal, or, to paraphrase the Springsteen song, fix your hair up pretty and head down to Atlantic City.
More modest gambling opportunities are as close as the convenience store down the street. Vermont offers an ever changing, big selection of lottery tickets that could instantly make you a millionaire, or more likely, just put an extra few bucks in your pocket, or even more likely, lose a dollar or two but have an instant of fun in the process.
Probably the easiest major casino to reach from Vermont is the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, about a two and a half hour drive from Burlington.
It’s got all that a gambler needs, including the obligatory round the clock gaming, four restaurants, a bingo palace, a spa, a hotel and an RV park next door.
Akwasasne also has a number of special events, such as an autumn wine tasting event during summer, the North Country Concert Series. The 2014 series featured intimate concerts with country stars such as Darryl Worley, Aaron Tippin and Collin Raye.
You don’t even have to gas up your car to get there. Vermont’s Green Mountain Tours offers weekly trips to Akwasasne. As of this writing, the buses rolled every Tuesday, but that might get switched to Saturday, said Keith Neal, sales director for the tour company.
Most of the Akwasasne clientele comes from central Vermont, because Green Mountain Tours is the only company that swings through the Barre and Montpelier areas to bring them to the Hogensburg casino. Akwasasne averages about 1.2 million visitors per year, and roughly 7 percent of them are from Vermont.
The majority of people in the Akwasasne tours are seniors, though participants in the weekly trips to Akwasasne are sometimes as young as 25 or so, Neal said.
He said people living in senior centers welcome the chance to get out and try their luck at Akwasasne. They typically don’t gamble away much money. What helps is the price is affordable. The bus trip to Akwasasne costs $48 per person, which is about the break even point for Green Mountain Tours, Neal said.
Atlantic City
Green Mountain Tours also has occasional trips to Atlantic City, New Jersey. The next one is in October.
Atlantic City is still a lot of fun, Neal said, noting that reports of Atlantic City’s demise are premature. At least he thinks so. Still, resort developers who gambled with new casinos are on a losing streak. According to the Associated Press, four of Atlantic City’s 12 major casinos will have closed by this autumn,victims of overbuilding just before the recession hit in 2008.
That’s actually good news for Vermonters thinking of heading to Atlantic City, Neal said. The remaining resorts are offering deals to lure customers, so gaming might not cost as much money and prices might be good on hotel rooms, restaurants and attractions.
The Bally Main Tower Hotel, the destination for the Green Mountain Tours trip to Atlantic City in October, is not among the casinos closing, so it’s a safe bet to sign up for the excursion.
The tour costs $584 for singles and $422 for doubles.
Reassuringly, Neal tells would-be gamblers headed to Atlantic City to not expect wreckage. Neal thinks part of Atlantic City’s problem is the public perceived the resort was devastated, and has not recovered from, Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
However, he noted only a small part of the famed Atlantic City boardwalk was destroyed in that storm, and that section was nowhere near the casinos and tourist attractions.
Overall, gambling trips represent about 10 percent of Green Mountain Tours overall business. Neal said there is not much of a discernible trend in the numbers of people signing up for gambling trips, though the Akwasasne buses aren’t as full as they used to be. He said the casino has tightened its belt on giveaways and deals, and that might have hurt business.
Another major option for Vermont gamblers is not much more than an hour north of the Canadian border. That, of course is Montreal.
Probably the principal casino in the Montreal area is Casino de Montreal. It has all the stuff you need for a day, weekend or week of gambling: poker, slot machines, table games and keno, plus lots of live entertainment, restaurants, hotel rooms, spas and, of course, the city of Montreal, which has one of the strongest European vibes of any North American city.
There’s only one potential drawback: You have to cross an international border to get there.
Usually, that’s not a problem. But sometimes, it is, said Neal, the sales director at Vermont’s Green Mountain Tours. Once, one of their tour buses was detained at the border for two hours on its way to the Montreal casino. That kept people away from the slot machines for too long, angering pretty much everybody on the bus.
“Gamblers are a unique breed. They are determined to get to the casino,” he said.
Largely for that reason, Green Mountain Tours no longer goes to Montreal for casino excursions.
If you go to the Montreal casino, remember to have your passport, or a specialized Vermont driver’s license that works as a border identification card to get into Canada.
You might also need identification to get into the Casino de Montreal, especially if there is a question of whether any member of your group is under 18. It’s also worth it to read the resort’s rules before entering. They’re not onerous, but there are rules such as no smart phones at many of the gaming tables.
Homegrown gambling
For those who don’t want to travel, Vermont has gambling in the form of lottery tickets.
Instant winning scratch tickets are more popular lately than tickets like Powerball or MegaMillions that promise the chance, however slim, of a multi-million dollar pay off said Gregory Smith, Executive Director of the Vermont Lottery.
The odds of winning are better with scratch tickets, Smith said. “You hear about the jackpots going really high, but that doesn’t happen very often,” he said.
Scratch off tickets offer the chance of much more instant, if small scale, gratification.
“You will spend a dollar or two and get the value of thinking, ‘What will I do if I win,” he said.
“You stand a very good chance of getting your money back,” he said.
The highest percentage of lottery players in Vermont are in the 40- to 50-year-old demographic, Smith said. He thinks younger people aren’t as aware of the lottery and become more cognizant of it as they age.
Most of the lottery proceeds go the Vermont Education Fund. Also, the Vermont Lottery budgets about $150,000 annually toward programs that help people beset with problem gambling, Smith said.
problem gambling
Which brings us to that very problem of gambling too much.
It’s a lot of fun for most of us, but if you do things like gamble until your last dollar is gone, you’ve used income or savings to gamble while letting bills go unpaid, or you’ve made repeated, unsuccessful tries at stopping the gambling, you might need help.
Vermonters who think they, or a family member, may have a gambling problem, can get help via a Vermont nonprofit. The Vermont Council for Problem Gambling recently turned over the reins of its services to the Vermont Association for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery in Montpelier. It can be reached at (802) 223-6263 or visit http://www.vamhar.org.


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