Presque Isle Downs May Be Small But Has Big Potential For Churchill Downs

Presque Isle Downs & Casino is a combination racetrack and casino (or “racino”) just southeast of Erie, Pennsylvania. The facility offers slot machines, table games, poker, and live horseracing to residents and visitors.

Presque Isle is open 24 hours a day. However, the poker room maintains its own hours and typically opens at 10 a.m.

Presque Isle also contains four restaurants to serve patrons, including a buffet and a fine dining option. Additionally, the brewpub offers live entertainment on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

There is no in-house hotel at Presque Isle. However, a Baymont Inn & Suites is directly adjacent to the property, and the hotel runs a 24-hour shuttle to and from the casino.

Geographically, Presque Isle is most easily accessed from northwestern Pennsylvania, western New York, and northeastern Ohio. The facility is roughly equidistant from Buffalo, New York and Cleveland, Ohio along Interstate 90, and about an hour-and-a-half drive from each city.

Within Pennsylvania, its nearest large neighbor is Pittsburgh, which is 125 miles south of the facility. However, its target markets are the three sectors of states mentioned above, as Pittsburgh residents have prominent options closer to home.

Gaming at Presque Isle Downs & Casino

For a smallish casino, Presque Isle offers most of the options gamblers would expect in larger properties. The only difference is that there may be only one or two of everything, rather than four or five.

Slots

Presque Isle Downs offers almost 1,600 slot machines for players to try their luck. The mixture of games ranges from old classics to newer games that offer patrons a different look.

One of the main types of slots onsite are the progressive slots. Players can go for life-changing money with a variety of low-cost progressive options, including:

  • One Cent Quick Hits Progressives
  • Two Cent Hot Slots Progressives
  • Five Cent Double Diamond Progressives
  • $1 Double Dollar Progressives
  • $1 Big Al’s Progressives

Presque Isle does have slot machines in higher denominations, all the way up to $100 per betting unit. The casino also offers a high-limit room for bigger spenders who want more privacy.

Table games

The table games at Presque Isle are long on variety but short on numbers. There are 42 tables on the casino floor that spread ten different games:

  • Baccarat
  • Blackjack
  • Casino Texas Hold’em
  • Craps
  • Let It Ride
  • Mississippi Stud
  • Pai Gow
  • Roulette
  • Spanish 21
  • Three Card Poker

All table games offer progressive jackpots as side bets for players. In addition, Blackjack and Craps offer a variety of side bets.

Blackjack

Blackjack is perhaps the best-known casino game. Its popularity stems from both the game’s simplicity and its relatively low house edge.

The side bets for Blackjack are:

  • Blazing 7s
    • Players bet $5 on the side for their chance at a progressive jackpot. They receive payouts when one of their first three cards is a seven.
    • The minimum payout is 2 to 1 for having a single seven. The more sevens, the higher the payout.
    • Players win 10 percent of the progressive if they are dealt three same-colored sevens. They win 100 percent of the jackpot if they are dealt three same-suited sevens.
  • In BETween
    • Players bet that the dealer’s upcard will fall between the two player cards.
    • Payouts are based upon the amount of spread between the cards – the smaller the gap, the higher the payout.
    • Matching all three cards is called a triple match, and pays 30 to 1, which is the highest payout on this bet.
  • Lucky Ladies
    • This bet wins when the first two cards dealt to the player add up to 20 and loses otherwise.
    • Payouts range from 4 to 1 to 1000 to 1 based upon the types of cards used to achieve a 20.
    • The highest payout occurs when the player draws two queens of hearts against a dealer Blackjack.
  • 21 + 3
    • This bet focuses on combinations formed by the first two player cards and the dealer’s upcard.
    • Players win when the three card combination forms a flush, straight, three of a kind, or straight flush.
    • All winning bets pay out at 9 to 1 odds.

Craps

Craps is one of the most enticing games in the casino. For newcomers in the casino, it is also one of the more intimidating and bewildering.

Much of the confusion stems from the fact that there are two phases of gameplay, and the rules shift radically between the two. Essentially, craps is a game based upon whether the dice roll the same number or not.

The simplest craps bet is the pass line bet. In a pass line bet, a shooter throws the dice, and players win on rolls of 7 or 11 and lose on rolls of 2, 3, or 12. Then, once the shooter has rolled a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10, players are now betting that the shooter will reroll that number prior to rolling a seven.

There are many other types of bets you can make on a craps table. More or less, if there is a combination of dice possible, you can bet that it will come up. Actually, in many cases, you can also bet that it will not appear.

Casinos, in their quest for greater profitability, have unveiled a variety of side bets beyond the traditional side betting available on a craps table. Presque Isle Downs is no different, and here are the side bets you can make there:

  • The Fire Bet
    • Fire Bets are bets about how many points the shooter can successfully roll. The more unique points the shooter can complete (or reroll), the more payout that Fire Bets receive.
  • All Small
    • Players win if the shooter can roll numbers 2 through 6 before rolling a 7. Unlike Fire Bets, the shooter only has to roll each number a single time. This bet pays out at 34 to 1.
  • All Tall
    • Players win if the shooter can roll number 8 through 12 before rolling a 7. Like All Small bets, the shooter only has to roll each number a single time. Also like All Small bets, this bet pays out at 34 to 1.
  • Make Them All
    • Players win if the shooter can roll every single number except for 7 before rolling a 7. Because this event is so rare, it pays out at a whopping 175 to 1 odds. Amazingly, this bet actually has the lowest house edge of the single roll bets.

Other games

Poker

Despite the table count, Presque Isle makes the most of its seven-table room. The room spreads limit and no-limit Hold’em and Omaha games.

The room also offers high hand and splash pot promotions. During the latter’s promotional periods, a randomly-selected table receives a $50 splash every hour and a half.

Players who love poker tournaments can find them at Presque Isle. Buy-ins range from $50 daily tournaments to the $230 Super Saturday Tournament.

The room opens each day at noon on weekdays. It opens at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Racing

With a word like “downs” in its name, Presque Isle obviously offers racing. In fact, the live racing season occurs between late May and early October.

The Racetrack opens its door at 5:25 p.m. and serves the kind of food you would expect. Items like hamburgers and French fries are available for some of the cheapest food onsite.

In addition to the live racing, the racetrack offers daily simulcasting. Players can wager year-round on races around the country.

Play Tips and Recommendations

  • Blackjack 
    • Learn basic strategy to the best of your ability. The set of rules in Pennsylvania provide one of the more favorable situations in the country for blackjack players. Proper use of basic strategy at Presque Isle can reduce the house advantage below .5 percent.
  • Craps
    • Back up your pass line bets with odds bets. These are extra bets that pay off at true odds, and they are among the very best bets you can make on casino table games. They will help reduce the house advantage.
  • Roulette
    • Most Roulette wheels are either called American or European-style wheels. The only difference between the two is that American wheels contain both 0 and 00 spaces. If at all possible, play on a European wheel – American wheels come with a whopping 5.25 percent house edge, and the European wheels literally cut that percentage in half to 2.7 percent.
  • Slots
    • The slot machines in Pennsylvania are tighter than slot machines in other places because of the tax considerations that come with slot machine operation. Pennsylvania casinos must pay 55 percent in taxes to the state government, so they are loath to offer machines that return money to the player at a high rate. So, avoid these machines if possible, but if you must play them, avoid the penny slots, as they are set to pay the least.

Presque Isle Downs & Casino history

The 272-acre site originally housed a different racetrack entirely. Beginning in 1973, Commodore Downs offered live horseracing to residents of Erie.

However, the track was not a financial success. Even after a name change to Erie Downs, the track closed shop in 1986.

In the early 2000s, West Virginia-based gaming operator MTR Gaming Group applied for one of Pennsylvania’s 14 open slots licenses. Though the approval process for the license proved to be both lengthy and difficult, the company began construction in 2005 and opened the slots parlor in February 2007.

Horseracing debuted seven months later. The racing facilities were specifically created to be top-notch and cutting-edge, with a synthetic racing surface and clear sightlines.

Local architectural firm Weborge Rectenwald Buehler designed the structures and used prefabricated materials to speed the construction process. Company estimates place the total cost of construction at $292 million.

MTR chose the name of the casino to refer to a historically significant and beloved peninsula located on the other side of Erie. The peninsula, which was a naval base during the War of 1812, is the most popular state park in Pennsylvania due to its status as the state’s only “seashore.”

MTR merged with Eldorado Resorts in 2014. Eldorado owns multiple casinos across the United States, including the Isle, Isle of Capri, Lady Luck, and Eldorado brands.

Presque Isle Downs & Casino competitive challenges

The biggest challenge that Presque Isle faces is its location. Presque Isle sits isolated from the rest of Pennsylvania and must rely on travelers to survive.

In fact, the casino cannot rely upon the nearest Pennsylvania city, Pittsburgh, due to the presence of Rivers Casino. With a larger casino close by, Presque Isle would have to get really creative with marketing to convince Pittsburgh residents to drive two hours away.

Presque Isle has also struggled due to the expansion of gambling in northeastern Ohio. At the time of its debut, Clevelanders had no closer options.

At present, there are now three casinos, including a racino, located in or near Cleveland. Even if that weren’t enough to draw away Cleveland traffic, there are also two more gambling facilities in nearby Youngstown.

Buffalo also has the same problem. Two tribal casinos, including one in downtown Buffalo, and a slot parlor offer a much easier commute to Buffalo residents than 100 miles to the southwest.

As a result, Presque Isle’s revenue is the lowest of Pennsylvania’s six racinos. In fact, its revenue is third-lowest in the state, according to the most recent revenue figures provided by the state.

Presque Isle Downs & Casino legal challenges

Presque Isle has also found itself embroiled in legal action throughout its entire existence. Even before the park opened, MTR had to battle a challenge from Magna Entertainment, whose Meadows racetrack stood to be adversely affected by the new venue.

The complaint came after the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission had already approved MTR’s initial application. The commission then rescinded its approval and required MTR to apply for the license all over again.

Ultimately, Magna withdrew its complaint in a show of solidarity for pending slot machine legislation. However, the resulting legal action meant that MTR had to spend time and money to resubmit its licensing application.

Then, in 2013, Presque Isle found itself in court again, this time as the petitioner. The casino sued both the state’s harness racing commission and Endeka Entertainment over the latter’s plans to build a harness racing facility 90 miles south of Presque Isle.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately rejected Endeka’s application for a license, so the headache of another nearby competitor passed for Presque Isle. However, the final decision did not come until the last week of 2016, meaning that MTR had fought for three years and had to go to the highest court in the state to receive relief.

Presque Isle Downs outlook

Presque Isle Downs will likely continue to struggle in an increasingly saturated market. However, the facility is still taking in plenty of revenue.

Eldorado announced in March 2018 that it reached an agreement to sell the property. Churchill Downs Inc. will reportedly pay $178.9 million to acquire Presque Isle Downs.

The move is part of Eldorado’s strategy to divest itself of slower assets and free up cash to build new properties. Churchill Downs is also taking operational control of the Pennsylvania casino Lady Luck Nemacolin.

The sale is likely to close in late 2018. It remains to be seen what Churchill Downs’s ownership will change.

However, it’s a pretty good bet that horseracing will be involved.