CasiNotes: Mountain casino a winning alternative to shore resorts

Posted: July 22, 2011

TALK ABOUT "out of sight, out of mind." Because it's tucked away off Route 611 high in the Pocono Mountains some 110 miles north of Philly, Mount Airy Casino Resort doesn't always enter the discussion when the subject is eastern Pennsylvania gambling halls.

After all, the full-service resort complex - complete with 188-room hotel and golf course - located on the site of the old Mount Airy Lodge, doesn't have the glitz or high-voltage action of Bensalem's Parx, or the urban setting of SugarHouse in Fishtown. But thanks to its proximity to the lucrative North Jersey/New York City gaming market (about 90 minutes east on Interstate 80) and the recent legalization of table games in the state, Mount Airy is thriving.

That, at least, is the word from John Culetsu, the property's executive vice president and general manager, who, during a recent chat, insisted his casino "is not your parents' Mount Airy."

Culetsu, who has a background in hotel management and broke into the gaming business in the late 1980s at what was then still known as Resorts International (now Resorts Atlantic City), credits the introduction of blackjack, craps and the like for his property's current success. "It was huge," he said of last year's legalization of table games. "It made a big difference in revenue [because it] put us on a competitive playing field with [casinos in] New Jersey and Connecticut."

But the gambling den is also doing well with electronic games: According to figures from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Mount Airy's slot revenue for the 12-month period ending June 30 was 11.83 percent better than in the previous year. Statewide, slot income rose an average of 7.8 percent, making Mount Airy's increase more than 50 percent higher than that of its Keystone State competition.

Not that Culetsu and his minions are resting on their laurels. Although nothing is set in stone, he does have expansion on his mind; his "wish list" includes more hotel rooms and a permanent performance venue larger than the current space, Gypsies Lounge & Nightclub, which seats a few hundred patrons.

Table games tend to attract a younger demographic than slot machines, which has resulted in Mount Airy tweaking its entertainment strategy. The emphasis used to be on matinee production shows aimed at slot-playing seniors. Although such programs are still in the mix (according to Culetsu, the casino receives 35 to 50 buses daily), Gypsies is now hosting a series of concerts by acts aimed at younger patrons:

Tomorrow night, '80s electro-pop outfit Berlin featuring Terri Nunn is scheduled, with '90s faves 10,000 Maniacs due Aug. 13 and erstwhile MTV darlings The Fixx set for Aug. 20.

Mount Airy, which enjoys a marketing partnership with nearby Pocono Raceway that has given it access to the NASCAR crowd, has also joined the large number of casinos cashing in on the reality-TV craze. July 30, the cast of the History Channel's wildly popular "Pawn Stars" will be there as part of its "Gold & Silver Road Show."

Las Vegas pawnshop owner Rick Harrison, his dad (known as "The Old Man"), son Corey and Austin "Chumlee" Russell will be on hand appraising jewelry and other small items. Showtime is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $15 (for those who bring items for appraisal) and $10 (spectators).

Mount Airy Casino Resort, 44 Woodland Road, Mount Pocono, 877-682-4791, mountairycasino.com.

Howie wowee

As I do every time he visits AyCee, I have to insist you check out Howie Mandel tomorrow night. The chrome-domed comic and current "America's Got Talent" judge is arguably the funniest stand-up comic working today thanks to his zany creativity and his seemingly supernatural ability to brilliantly ad-lib while bantering with audience members who make themselves part of the show by shouting at him.

You can catch Mandel at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa's Music Box. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $75 and $65. For tickets, call 866-900-4849, or go to theborgata.com.

Revel sneak peek

You don't have to wait until its opening next May to get a look at what lies in store at Revel, the $2.5 billion pleasure palace at the eastern end of the Boardwalk between New Jersey and Connecticut avenues. The public is invited to check out the Revel Visitor Lounge, which, according to a news release, "will offer a glimpse of the brand and visual clues to the experiences the creative teams are designing."

The Visitor Lounge, which also has refreshments and brand merchandise on sale, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Today's "At the Casinos" column will be the last one you'll see in print. Because of the redesign of the People's Paper, which will be unveiled Monday, much of my casino coverage will henceforth be found at my "CasiNotes" blog at philly.com/philly/blogs/casinotes (I'll still be reporting on the region's casino scene in the paper, but not in column form).

Please join me online!

Chuck Darrow has been covering Atlantic City and casinos for over 20 years. Read

his blog www.philly.com/Casinotes. Email him at darrowc@phillynews.com. And listen to his Atlantic City reports

Saturdays at 1:45 a.m. with Steve Trevelise on WIP (610-AM) and 3:05 p.m.

on Atlantic City's WOND (1400-AM) with Marc Berman.

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