Though it was Nevada that paved the way for the rise of U.S. casino gaming in 1931, there were casinos in New England already — just not the type that would look remotely at home on the Vegas Strip. Back in the 19th century, “casino” referred broadly to a social and recreational facility: hence Rhode Island’s c. 1880 Newport Casino, a Shingle-style beauty and National Historical Landmark that today houses the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Likewise New Hampshire’s c. 1899 Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, a performance venue that’s hosted everyone from Simon & Garfunkel to Chelsea Handler.
The more modern versions of casinos in New England didn’t arrive until late 20th century, after an act of Congress cleared the way for Native American tribes to launch gaming enterprises. The Mashantucket Pequot tribe founded a high-stakes bingo hall on their Connecticut reservation in 1986; by 1992 it had grown into Foxwoods, which for years would rank as not just the largest among Connecticut casinos but also the country. Another Connecticut tribe, the Mohegan, debuted their Mohegan Sun casino in 1997, drawing a crowd of some 75,000 on opening day alone.
Since then, changes to state law in Rhode Island and Maine meant that those states, too, can now count casinos among their attractions. The big news, though, is in Massachusetts, where the 2011 Expanded Gaming Act allowed for as many as three casino resorts and a slots parlor. By 2019, two high-profile casino resorts had already opened — and the nickname “Mass Vegas” was born.
Guide to Casinos in New England
A quick note: For this roundup, we’re looking just at casinos and slots parlors. However, New England visitors can also find cruise ships that offer casino-type gambling as well as a number of places on land that have charitable gaming setups, even in states that don’t allow casino gambling.
Although in terms of actual gaming space Foxwoods is second in the U.S. to Oklahoma’s WinStar casino, it’s way out in front in terms of overall size. At 9 million square feet, Foxwoods is the largest casino resort in North America and the fifth largest in the world. What fills all that space? For starters, six casinos, more than 2,200 hotel rooms, 40-odd cafés and restaurants, two spas, six nightclubs, and a collection of 85 Tanger Outlets shops. Notable among recent additions to the property is Foxwoods Extreme Adventures, which boasts a vertiginous free-fall tower, a zipline, and a high-octane indoor go-kart track.
While casino resorts are known for showstopping decor, Mohegan Sun takes it to a new level with interiors that are inspired by nature and Native American design. There are waterfalls, including one that plunges 75 feet; a three-story-high crystal mountain made of alabaster and onyx; and various rock structures atop which stand mechanical wolves that occasionally howl (lightly). Gaming enthusiasts can choose from three casinos offering 350-plus table games, a 42-table poker room, and 5,000 slots, while the rest of the complex has everything from shopping and dining to luxury hotel rooms and a spa. Plus, the 10,000-seat arena is home to the WNBA’s the Connecticut Sun and a professional lacrosse team, the New England Black Wolves.
At 2 million square feet and with a price tag of nearly a billion dollars, the MGM Springfield was bound to make a splash when it debuted in 2018. But what really made this property an attention-getter was the fact that it was the first casino resort that Massachusetts had ever seen. Operated by the Nevada-based MGM Resorts International, the casino resort takes up 14 acres in three downtown city blocks and offers a 125,000-square-foot gaming floor packed with slots and games. Among the other attractions are a seven-screen movie theater and a suite with three high-tech golfing simulators; meanwhile, the resort’s six-story boutique hotel features clever decor touches that nod to Springfield history and personalities, such as Dr. Seuss.
Like MGM Springfield, the $2.6 billion Encore Boston Harbor is the brainchild of a big Nevada player — this time, Wyn Resorts. The resort casino opened in June 2019 on 33 acres along the Mystic River in Everett, a parcel that sits about five miles from Boston’s Logan Airport. The 210,000-square-foot gaming space includes a poker room with a whopping 88 tables; hungry gamblers can refuel at restaurants run by, among others, Neptune chef John Ross and Frank DePasquale of Bricco. One standout touch is the hotel lobby’s $20 million Popeye sculpture by Jeff Koons; another is a harborwalk interspersed with viewing decks, bike paths, and boat docks.
Offering live and simulcast harness racing when it opened in 1999, the Plainridge Racecourse was the first to put in an application when the state passed legislation to allow for a slots parlor. Despite some turmoil and a change in ownership, the renamed Plainville Park Casino got the license and rolled out its slots in 2015. The gaming area features 1,250 slot machines that range from penny-a-play all the way up to $100 slots, plus electronic poker, blackjack, and roulette. And here’s a one-of-a-kind lure for sports fans: Among the dining options is the first restaurant from local football legend Doug Flutie, called Flutie’s Sports Pub and outfitted with more than 30 LCD TVs.
The newer of a pair of casinos in Rhode Island that are run by the Twin River Management Group, the Tiverton Casino Hotel debuted in 2018. It has 1,000 slots and nearly three dozen live table games — from craps and baccarat to blackjack and Pai Gow poker — in 33,600 feet of gaming space. There’s a racebook with a state-of-the-art simulcast theater that shows action from the country’s leading tracks, and a sportsbook, too (FYI the only other Rhode Island facility to offer sports betting is Tiverton’s sibling casino in Lincoln). An attached 83-room hotel makes staying and playing a solid option for the out-of-towner.
Just 10 minutes from the capital city of Providence, Twin River Casino Hotel is Tiverton’s bigger sibling, with more than 190,000 square feet of gaming space. It got its start as in the 1940s as a racetrack called Lincoln Downs, but by 2007 it was offering simulcasting and electronic gaming and was recast as Twin River Casino. Table games were added in 2013, and today the casino has 4,100-plus slots, nearly 100 table games, and 23 poker tables. A 136-room hotel debuted in 2018, the same year that Twin River opened the state’s first sportsbook.
This Maine casino and harness racing track is operated by the same Pennsylvania-based company, Penn National Gaming, that runs Plainridge Park Casino in Massachusetts — and about 40 other properties in the U.S. and Canada, making it North America’s largest regional gaming operator. The casino and its 152-room hotel are located on the Penobscot River near the city’s waterfront park; just across the street is the racetrack in historic Bass Park, which has hosted harness racing since 1893. Among the casino attractions: nearly 800 slots, video poker and roulette, an assortment of table games, Maine’s only live poker room, the so-called “Epic Buffet,” and a pub serving 99 different beers.
Although it’s a long way from the Bluegrass State to Vacationland, this Maine casino does have a surprising tie to Kentucky. Built and opened in 2012 by a local developer, it was bought the next year for $160 million by the Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. The new owner soon embarked on a $25 million expansion, which resulted in the addition of a sleek new hotel, fresh dining options, and a bigger gaming floor for the casino’s slots, video poker and video keno, and table games.
Casinos in New Hampshire
Though New Hampshire has not approved casino-type gambling, bills to legalize it have cropped up regularly in the 21st century. (The Senate passed such a bill as recently as March 2019, only to see the House reject it.)
What the Granite State does have is “charitable” gaming, which covers everything from church raffles and bingo nights to the “mini casinos” that donate a chunk of proceeds to charities. A few examples: Cheers Poker Room and Casino in Salem, Ocean Gaming Casino in Hampton, and Manchester Poker Room & Casino in Manchester.
Casinos in Vermont
Vermont nonprofits can use certain games of chance — bingo, raffles, break-open tickets — to raise money, but that’s about it. Most Vermonters looking for a gaming spot head to New York or Canada, which both have casino resorts.
Have you been to a New England casino? Tell us about it!
This post was first published in 2019 and has been updated.