Presque Isle Downs and Casino Review
Presque Isle Downs & Casino is a year-round gambling facility for casino and racetrack wagering. Owned by Churchill Downs, Presque Isle is located in Erie, PA, 90 minutes east of Cleveland, 90 minutes west of Buffalo, and two hours north of Pittsburgh. The retail BetAmerica sportsbook opened at Presque Isle in the summer of 2019.
Churchill Downs and Presque Isle also have online betting products in the Keystone State under the BetAmerica brand. The BetAmerica sportsbook went live in PA in December, 2019 with the online casino following in January, 2020 ahead of the Super Bowl.
Presque Isle Downs online casino overview
Churchill Downs Inc., best known for horse racing and its world-renowned track in Louisville, Kentucky where the iconic Kentucky Derby takes place, is a relative newcomer to Pennsylvania.
CDI entered PA by assuming management of Lady Luck Nemacolin in Farmington, PA and purchasing Presque Isle Downs, processes which began in August of 2018. Both deals were made with Eldorado Resorts, which is now merged with Caesars.
Originally, Churchill partnered with platform provider SBTech to power its BetAmerica online sportsbooks and casinos. But that is to change. Churchill Downs appears to be in the process of migrating its casino platforms to GAN, with Kambi to power its online sportsbooks. The BetAmerica brand remains.
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Introduction to Presque Isle Downs Casino
There is no hotel on the Presque Isle Casino property itself, but several within a half mile of the hotel. While the combination of a casino, poker room, and racetrack offers plenty to do, guests who choose to stay overnight in a nearby hotel can combine a visit to the casino with other activities in the area.
For example, Presque Isle Downs & Casino is conveniently located near the Millcreek Mall and the Station Dinner Theater. In addition, two water parks, Splash Lounge and Waldameer Park and Water World, along with the Erie Zoo and Presque Isle State Park, offer fun for the whole family.
Unlike the other five racinos currently operating in Pennsylvania, all of which existed as a racetrack first with the casino added later, Presque Isle was a casino first. The casino opened on Feb. 28, 2007, and the thoroughbred racetrack with legal PA horse racing known as Presque Isle Downs did not open until September 2, 2007, replacing another previously existing unsuccessful racetrack nearby called Erie Downs. Initially, the casino contained slot machines only, but in 2010, following the legalization of table games in Pennsylvania casinos as well, table games were added.
Presque Isle Casino is a lot smaller than some of the other casinos, with less than 1,600 slot machines and only 42 table games. There is also a small poker room. Although it is the only casino in the Erie, PA area, it had been losing business in recent years due to competition from Ohio casinos.
In March 2018, Churchill Downs Inc. brokered a deal to buy Presque Isle Downs. Apart from a management interest in Lady Luck Nemacolin, PI is the Kentucky-based company’s only Pennsylvania casino venture.
There are ample casino amenities to take advantage of at the Presque Isle property.
Visitors to Presque Isle Downs & Casino can choose from several restaurants. However, the emphasis is definitely on casual rather than high-end dining.
LBV Steak & Pasta is a moderately priced restaurant open for dinner only Tuesday-Saturday. The other dining options, include the Backstretch Buffet, Brew Brothers (combining food, drinks, and entertainment), and an inexpensive eatery called the InCafe, which is open 24/7. The InCafe menu, depending on the time of day, is limited to breakfast or regular sandwiches, pizza, and snacks. Items generally cost is a few dollars.
Alternatively, many players choose to eat at the Backstretch Buffet, which is open for extended hours daily. Prices for different meals vary:
- Sunday Breakfast Buffet (8-10 a.m.) – $9.99
- Friday and Saturday Late Night Buffet (11:30 p.m.-1 a.m.) – $9.99
- Sunday Champagne Brunch (11 a.m. to 9 p.m.) – $18.99
- Monday-Thursday lunch buffet is (11a.m. to 3 p.m.) – $14.99
- Monday-Thursday dinner buffet – $16.99
There are pricier special buffet Friday and Saturday. The Friday Seafood Festival costs $26.99, and the Saturday Land & Sea Dinner costs $19.99. One Club cardholders receive a discount on all buffets:
- $1 off with a Silver card
- $2 off with a Gold card
- $3 off with a President card
- $4 off with a Chairman card
Nightlife and entertainment
Brew Brothers offers casual food (such as burgers and pizza), a choice of 30 beers, and live entertainment. Sunday afternoons during football season, sports fans can watch the NFL action on big screens while enjoying various food and drink specials. On Friday and Saturday nights, there is live entertainment starting at 9 p.m., while Monday and Wednesday nights it’s the visitors’ time to showcase their talent.
Every Wednesday night between 8:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. is Karaoke Night. It’s when you get to choose from a playlist of over 150 songs to sing along to a live band.
Mondays are called Mish Mosh Mondays because every Monday, starting at 9 p.m., two “newbies” are given 30 minutes each to perform live for the audience. You never know, the casino might like your act enough to give you a paid gig there. If not, you still get a burger on the house!
There are no hotels on the premises, but guests who wish to stay overnight in the area have multiple options:
Baymont Inn & Suites
Baymont Inn and Suites is a mid-scale, smoke-free hotel with rooms starting at $104 a night. The hotel is located less than half a mile from the casino. It offers all of the following amenities:
- Complimentary shuttle service to and from Presque Isle Downs and Casino 24/7
- Free parking
- Free continental breakfast
- Microwave and refrigerator in all rooms
- Free Wi-Fi and Internet access
- Free airport shuttle
Another alternative is to stay at one of the racino’s partner hotels or motels in the area. When you make your reservations, be sure to mention that you are visiting Presque Isle Downs & Casino in order to get the best possible rate.
- Residence Inn and Suites*: An all-suite hotel with suites starting at $125
- Holiday Inn Express*: Rooms from $109
- Courtyard Marriott: Rates vary; check for best available
- Hilton Garden Inn: Rates vary; check for best available
- Home 2 Suites by Hilton: Rates vary; check for best available
- Comfort Inn & Suites*: Rooms from $87
- Days Inn*: Rooms from $79
- Quality Inn & Suites*: Rooms from $68
- Super 8: Rooms from $68
- Red Roof Inn: Casino visitors get 20 percent off best available rates plus a McDonald’s breakfast coupon
*Complimentary shuttle service is offered to and from Presque Isle Downs & Casino.
Residence Inn and Comfort Inn are located on Peach Street, about 2.8 miles from Presque Isle Downs & Casino. In addition to offering complimentary shuttle service, both hotels are connected to Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park.
Who can play in the Presque Isle Downs casino?
The minimum age to gamble in the State of Pennsylvania, as set by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), is 21 for casino gambling and 18 for horse races. Accordingly, at Presque Isle Downs & Casino, no one under age 21 is permitted on the casino floor. Visitors of any age are permitted in the racetrack area, but only those age 18 and older are legally allowed to make horse racing wagers.
Security and fairness
The PGCB is the agency that is responsible for licensing and regulating all 12 currently operating legal brick-and-mortar casinos in Pennsylvania and making sure that each one abides by its rules. Presque Isle Downs & Casino, like all of the other facilities under the jurisdiction of the PGCB, must meet this agency’s strict standards for security and fairness.
Although this casino is not as large as some Pennsylvania casinos, based on visitors’ comments on TripAdvisor and other sites, they find it to be a nice casino with a good mixture of games. Compared to lots of slots, there are only a few table games, however. The casino attracts many retirees who like to play the slots.
Presque Isle Casino is home to 1,580 slot machines. Frequent slot players will recognize many familiar favorites, but there are also newer slots for those who would like to try something different. In addition, there are lots of progressive slots, where some lucky players can win huge jackpots spending very small amounts of money. Some of the low-cost progressive jackpot slot machines at Presque Isle Casino include:
- One Cent Quick Hits Progressives
- Two Cent Hot Slots Progressives
- Five Cent Double Diamond Progressives
- $1 Double Dollars Progressives
- $1 Big Al’s Progressives
Denominations on the slot machines range from as little as a penny to as much as $100, so there are suitable games for all types of players. There is a separate high limit room for those wishing to play slots for large amounts.
Unfortunately, as much as players apparently like the variety of slot games at Presque Isle Casino, many of them dislike the smell of smoke, which at this place is described as everywhere, including the nonsmoking sections.
Slots payouts are tight
Another thing that Presque Isle slot players aren’t happy about is the payout rate. They complain that they can’t win because the slots are too tight. However, like the smoking problem, this type of complaint is neither new nor unique to Presque Isle Casino; it has been going on for some time at all of the Pennsylvania casinos.
According to the regulations set forth by the PGCB, as long as slot machines in the state have a return to the player (RTP) of at least 85 percent, they are in compliance. While recent data don’t show any Pennsylvania casino’s slot machines as returning the absolute minimum, the average RTP is only 88-90 percent. The bottom line for players is that it is tough to come out ahead playing slots at any casino in Pennsylvania.
One probable reason why the Pennsylvania slot machines don’t pay out more frequently is the 55 percent tax rate that casino operators have to pay on slots. Because of this high tax rate, it is understandable if they are tempted to hold back on what the machines return to the player.
Since there is no indication that the slot payouts in Pennsylvania are going to change for the better anytime soon, if you still want to play, you should do the following: only risk the amount of money you can afford, but avoid the penny machines, which have lower RTPs. Also, if you are lucky early on, keep in mind that the longer you stay at any machine, the more chance you are giving it to take back what you won and more.
There are only 42 table games at this casino, which means you are not going to have a choice of many different variations of the games being offered, but you can still find the most frequently played games. The table games at Presque Isle Casino include all of the following:
- Casino Texas Hold ‘Em
- Three card poker
- Let It Ride
- Mississippi Stud
- Pai gow
- Spanish 21
All of the casino poker games offer a progressive jackpot. PA blackjack games and craps offer side bets in addition to your regular bet, and some of them, if you’re really lucky, can result in really big payouts too.
Table game players can choose from a wide range of betting limits, but if you are a small player, keep in mind that on weekends and holidays, the table minimums, particularly on blackjack, might be higher than what is in your comfort zone. During high traffic periods, high-end players should have no problem at all finding a suitable table. The same room that contains high limit slots also offers high limit table games.
Players at Presque Isle Casino will have to be content with basic roulette. There are two forms of basic roulette: American roulette and European roulette. If this casino gives you both options, your best bet is European roulette, with just a single zero on the wheel and a house edge of 2.7 percent. If you play American roulette, there will be both a single and double zero on the wheel and it is tougher to overcome the 5.25 percent house edge.
If you love action and excitement, the Presque Isle Casino dice tables offer plenty. In addition to all of the usual craps bets, this casino offers four special bets:
The Fire Bet
You place Fire Bets just prior to a new shooter’s “come out” roll. The bet pays out based on how many different individual points a shooter rolls before they seven out.
The bet wins if the shooter rolls all of the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 in any order before rolling a seven.
The bet wins if the shooter rolls all of the numbers 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in any order before rolling a seven.
Make Them All
The bet wins if the shooter rolls all 10 possible numbers in any order before rolling a seven.
In order to win any of these bets, the player has to avoid the seven altogether, including on the come out roll.
Blackjack is a popular choice at Presque Isle Casino, and understandably so. As many casino players have come to realize, this is a game where not just luck, but also their own skill, can have a big say in the likelihood of winning. In addition, when using proper basic strategy, the house edge is much smaller than on many other casino games.
Different rules exist for blackjack, which vary from casino to casino. This can alter the house edge either way. But fortunately for Pennsylvania players, the rules set by the PGCB for blackjack are very liberal. The same rules apply across the board at all Pennsylvania casinos, so you don’t need to concern yourself that one casino’s rules might be better than another’s, which is not the case.
Blackjack is still a form of gambling, so even when playing perfectly and given the best rules, winning isn’t guaranteed. But you can maximize your chances by mastering basic strategy, which will reduce the house edge all the way down to .40 percent. When played according to basic strategy, the Pennsylvania blackjack game is one of the best in the country. Here is a summary of the rules:
- Blackjack pays 3:2
- Dealer stands on soft 17
- Doubling down permitted on any two cards
- Doubling down after splits
- Splits up to three hands (except aces)
- Late surrender (As long as the dealer does not have a blackjack, players who don’t like their hand can surrender it and give up half their bet.)
In addition to the required regular bet at the start of each hand (which must be at least the table minimum), Presque Isle Casino offers blackjack players four optional side bets. All of these bets are good for the house rather than the player due to a higher house edge than simply making standard bets using correct basic strategy. So keep that in mind, and if you make these side bets at all, do so for minimal stakes and only occasionally:
This bet is called In BETween because it wins anytime the value of the dealer’s upcard falls in between the player’s first two cards. For example, if your two cards are 4 and 8 and the dealer’s upcard is a 6, you win your bet. The amount won depends on the card spread. But the payout is even higher when all three cards are the same value, which is called a triple match. On all other hands, the bet is a loser. These are the payouts:
- Any in-bet: 1 to1
- Three card spread: 4 to1
- Two card spread: 6 to1
- One card spread: 10 to1
- Triple match: 30 to 1
Your first two cards and the dealer’s upcard make up your three-card hand for this bet, which you hope will be a strong poker hand. All winners pay 9 to 1. The possible winning hands are:
- Three of a kind
- Straight flush
It should be noted that some other casinos offer a variation of the 21+3 bet called 21+3 Xtreme, with different payouts for the winning hands ranging from 5 to 1 (flush) to 30 to 1 (straight flush). However, according to experts, 21+3 Xtreme is by far the worse of the two.
A Lucky Ladies bet wins when the player’s first two cards add up to 20 (which will probably already be a winner) and loses with any other two card total. The payouts for certain combinations of cards are higher, as indicated below:
- Any 20 vs. any dealer upcard: 4 to 1
- Suited 20 vs. any dealer upcard: 10 to 1
- Matched 20 (two identical cards) 25 to
- Two queens of hearts vs. any dealer upcard 200 to 1
- Two queens of hearts vs. a dealer blackjack 1,000 to 1
The Blazing 7s bet is an optional $5 side bet in blackjack which features a shot at a progressive jackpot. In order to win, at least one of the first three cards dealt to you needs to be a seven. But two sevens pay more than one and three pay even more. Furthermore, if you get three sevens that are all the same color, you win a piece of the jackpot, and if you’re lucky enough to get three sevens of the same suit, you win the entire jackpot!
If you take a third card and bust, you lose your regular bet, but it doesn’t affect the outcome of your Blazing 7s bet. So the correct strategy for Blazing 7s is never to stand with your first two cards if one or both is a seven, which in some cases will be contrary to basic strategy. Always hit, double, or with a pair of sevens, hit or split, in the hope that your third card will also be a seven. The Blazing 7 payouts are as follows:
- Three suited sevens 100 percent of jackpot
- Three colored sevens 10 percent of jackpot
- Any three sevens: 200 for 1
- Two sevens: 25 for 1
- One seven: 2 for 1
Besides the usual limit and no-limit hold ‘em and Omaha cash games, there are lots of other activity packed into this small poker room, which offers everything form deep stack tournaments to special high hand and splash pot promotions. During the splash pot promotional periods, every 90 minutes a randomly selected table gets $50 added to the pot.
Tournaments vary in structure and cost. Buy-ins and entry fees range from $35+$10+$5 and $50+$10+$5 for the 8,000 starting chips, 20-minute blinds tournaments to $200+$20+$10 for the Super Saturday Tournament with 15,000 starting chips and 30-minute blinds. Starting times for these tournaments is 12:30 p.m., but those who register by 12 noon receive bonus chips. You can check the poker room calendar at the start of each month for that month’s tournament and special promotion offerings and schedule.
The Presque Downs live racing season runs from late May to early October. Races run Sunday through Thursday. Unlike most thoroughbred racetracks in the U.S., Presque Downs has its live races in the evening rather than in the afternoon, and post time for the first race is at 5:25 p.m. In addition to the live races, the track offer daily simulcast racing.
Sunday and Wednesday nights between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. are Family Night at the Races featuring $2 cheeseburgers, two hot dogs for $2, and $1 french fries.
Presque Isle Downs Players Club rewards program
Presque Isle Downs & Casino has a loyalty rewards program called Presque Isle Downs Players Club. Membership is free, and you can pick up your card, if you don’t already have one, at the players club booth at the casino. All of your play counts towards earning points towards rewards, so be sure to insert your card into the machine when playing slots and present it when playing table games or placing horse racing bets.
Your can redeem your accumulated points for food and beverages at any Presque Isle Downs & Casino restaurant or for merchandise at the gift shop or for free play. Reward dollars are valid for 12 months after they are earned.
Presque Isle Players Club tier levels
Tier points are also awarded based on play, which are used to determine each person’s tier placement. The four tiers are:
- Tier One (Red)
- Tier Two (Yellow)
- Tier Three (Blue)
- Tier Four (Black)
Players at all levels earn reward dollars and receive offers in the mail based on play. Starting at Tier Two, additional benefits include:
- Bonus entries in select drawings
- Free valet service
- Free racing form
- Complimentary beverages (1 for Tier One, 2 for Tier Three, 3 for Tier Four)
Players at Tier Three and Four also receive:
- Self redemption at kiosk
- Casino host
Additional perks for players in the highest tier include: a personal casino host and priority lines for guest services and the buffet. Chairman level players also receive:
- Priority parking
- Priority lines at Guest Services and the Backstretch Buffet
- Quarterly LBV comp (up to $100 – see casino host)
Presque Isle Downs & Casino, like all of the Pennsylvania casinos, is a hubbub of activity for anyone who enjoys gambling. But it isn’t perfect, so along with all of the great features, there are some that are not are not so great.
Although it is not as large as some Pennsylvania casinos, that should not deter you. The 1,500+ slots should be more than enough to find the kinds of games that would appeal to you, and despite the small number of table games, what this casino lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Presque Isle Downs is also a fun place to visit for anyone who enjoys racing.
Visitors’ complaints about Presque Isle Downs & Casino on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp are very similar to those for other Pennsylvania casinos. What players don’t like are:
- Tight slots
- Lack of low limit table games on weekends
- Difficulty getting table games play comps
- Smell of smoke
- Quality of the buffet
The smokiness of the casino is not only annoying to many people, but also poses a health risk, so it needs to be addressed. However, in response to one player’s complaint of having to walk through the smoking area to reach the nonsmoking area, the casino’s response was that the nonsmoking area on the west side of the building could be accessed directly from the west entrance.
There is no hotel on the premises. However, there are many affordable places to stay nearby, some of which offer shuttle service. The food at Presque Isle Downs is simple and casual rather than gourmet, and the evening entertainment is also low key. This is not the place to go for either top of the line entertainment or late night partying.
The best features of this facility, apart from the games themselves, are the friendly staff and fun promotions.
Presque Isle Downs & Casino
8199 Perry Highway
Erie, PA 26509