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Saratoga Casino Hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York [In-Depth Review]

Michael Y. Park's image
Michael Y. Park
Michael Y. Park's image

Michael Y. Park

Editor

19 Published Articles 183 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 60+U.S. States Visited: 50

Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and que...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

35 Published Articles 3236 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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If you’ve ever read an E.L. Doctorow novel or caught an episode of “The Gilded Age,” you may know Saratoga Springs as the ultimate playground for posh Americans in the late 19th century. It was an elite retreat known first for its mineral springs (which you can still drink from today) and then for its horseracing (it’s still where the highly ranked Travers Stakes, or Midsummer Derby, is held every summer). And it was also renowned for its opulence, from the Victorian architecture to the over-the-top fêtes that New York and Boston’s wealthy threw each other in their summer mansions.

Saratoga Springs is still the kind of place where you share the road with $350,000 Maybachs and $10,000 Afghan hounds. And it’s still a town that’s all about the horses.

So when I had reason to go up to Saratoga Springs in early March this year with my kindergartener, I looked for points-and-miles hotels steeped in this fascinating town’s history. I initially tried to get a room at The Adelphi Hotel, the doyenne of the town’s hotels, with a commanding presence on the main street, Broadway, and a central role in race-season events. The Adelphi Hotel is a member of Amex’s The Hotel Collection, so I looked it up on AmexTravel.com, but there were no free rooms the weekend we were coming.

I stayed on AmexTravel.com but widened my search and found the Saratoga Casino Hotel had vacant rooms with a track view. I thought it’d be a fun and unique experience for my 6-year-old to watch horses racing from the window of our hotel room, so I was all in. Sure, it may have been a crapshoot picking a hotel off AmexTravel.com with little other information about it, but I felt the odds were in our favor for an enjoyable and comfortable stay. (I promise there’ll be no more gambling puns after this.)

Booking

The Saratoga Casino Hotel is independently owned and not part of a chain or loyalty program. It is, however, bookable through AmexTravel.com using American Express Membership Rewards points.

I’d originally hoped to book 2 nights at the Saratoga Casino Hotel using points, but I rethought my decision. This was before race season had begun in earnest, so the room was going for around $294 per night with fees and taxes, or 36,429 points, which meant I would’ve gotten a value of about 0.79 cents per point to book with points, far less than our valuation of Amex Membership Rewards points at 2.2 cents per point.

Saratoga Casino booking page
Paying in cash made more sense than redeeming points. Image Credit: AmexTravel.com

Instead, I booked a Deluxe Room with 1 King Bed and Track View by charging it to The Platinum Card® from American Express, which earned me 5x points because I booked it through AmexTravel.com. I paid $587.62 for 2 nights and earned 2,938 Amex Membership Rewards points on the hotel stay.

One alarming oddity, however, sent me into a minor panic the day before our stay. Rechecking the hotel address to type into Waze for the next morning’s drive, I went to the confirmation email from AmexTravel.com only to see that I’d been booked into the Saratoga Casino Hotel — in Wyoming!

Saratoga Casino confirmation error copy
Wyoming?! Image Credit: AmexTravel.com

The area code listed for the hotel, however, was for upstate New York. I called the number, and a hotel receptionist assured me that they were indeed in Saratoga Springs, New York, that my reservation was confirmed, and that they were expecting us the next day. Someone at AmexTravel.com had mistakenly entered the wrong state for the hotel, even though the street address and phone number were accurate.

Location

First off, I can assure you that the Saratoga Casino Hotel is definitely in Saratoga Springs, New York, not Wyoming.

Saratoga Springs, New York, is in the state’s Capital Region and is served by Albany International Airport (ALB). However, I drove up from New York City with my son, which took about 4 hours.

What’s now the Saratoga Casino Hotel, a little over 2 miles from The Adelphi Hotel, was opened in 1941 as a half-mile thoroughbred harness racing track and came to host a number of legendary horses and races successfully. But legalized off-track betting and a series of bear markets led to a smaller crowd. In the early 2000s, the racetrack tried to reverse its fortunes and increase the size of the purses it could offer racehorses by adding a casino.

It seemed to work. By 2014, the racetrack could offer $275,000 for its August marquee event, once again attracting some of the biggest names in racing. In 2016, the racetrack casino opened a hotel and changed its name to its current one. Three years later, it spent $8 million building a terrace with a track view, casino bar, and VIP lounge.

The hotel was about 10 minutes by car from downtown Saratoga Springs, down a back road, and through residential developments to open up into a huge parking lot that was still waiting to welcome peak-season gambling crowds. Saratoga Race Course was about 5 minutes by car, almost directly north.

Saratoga Casino parking lot
The hotel was to the left, the casino to the right, and the race course was out back.

It wasn’t walkable to downtown Saratoga Springs for practical purposes, but the hotel had a free shuttle bus to drop you off and pick you up anywhere in town. I’d planned on using this service, but the circumstances of our stay meant I had to drive us everywhere instead.

Check-In

We arrived at the hotel around noon, having asked ahead for an early check-in. The beaming front desk attendants gave us our room and key cards right away, but we poked around a bit before heading up to the room.

Saratoga Casino lobby
The lobby consisted of an interior portico and sleepy gamblers.

Horses, unsurprisingly, were everywhere, from nearly all the paintings and photographs on the walls to an antique harness carriage off the lobby.

Saratoga Casino horse paintings
There were horses everywhere.

The hotel was conspicuous in trying to blend a Gilded Age elegance with that ’80s steakhouse vibe casinos always seem to go for, with sometimes mixed results.

Saratoga Casino main hallway
Going to a ball with a tsarina or getting a porterhouse at Morton’s? Make up your mind!

We took the elevator up to our fourth-floor room, taking care not to jump as we did, as advised by not 1 but 2 very serious signs inside.

Saratoga Casino elevator sign
There’s a story here, and it had an unhappy ending for everyone.

Amenities

The Saratoga Casino Hotel initially focused on adding amenities to attract more visitors to its racetrack. Although its hotel operations were relatively new, and we arrived during a slow period, everything was well taken care of.

Racetrack and Harness Racing Museum

The racetrack was the primary attraction at the hotel, but the races during our stay were small and held at times we couldn’t attend.

The recently added outdoor racetrack terrace had a great view of the track, but I hoped that wasn’t where the majority of its $8 million renovation money went in 2017 because I would’ve offered to put those pretty basic benches in myself for, say, $2 million plus lunches.

Saratoga Casino track seating
The terrace offered a prime view of the horses. Or would have, during an actual race.

The racetrack bar was inside but still had a good view of the track through huge windows, although it was closed when I visited.

Saratoga Casino track bar
The bar had a good view of the track, but the lack of people killed the atmosphere.

Signs touted a museum dedicated to the sport of harness racing, but as far as I could tell, the big exhibit was this model of a harness-racing horse by the bar overlooking the track.

Saratoga Casino harness racing museum
You can take a horse to a racetrack …

Casino

I wasn’t allowed to take photographs inside any casino area, as is standard in any gambling establishment. The security guard-cum-entry sentry telling me so did so in probably the nicest way a security guard has ever told me to stop doing part of my job.

Saratoga Casino entrance
Go no further, lensmen!

The hotel’s casino definitely did not attract the Maybach-and-Afghan hound crowd I’d seen in downtown Saratoga Springs. It seemed to be primarily unexpressive retirees plugging their fixed incomes into video slot machines a few dollars at a time. The games were about 90% video slots, with a few video blackjack tables. It was, of course, easy to find screens showing live horseraces around the country.

In the spirit of this review, I put $1 into an ancient Egyptian-themed video slot machine, won about 60 cents, and then lost all of it about 5 minutes later on an ancient Greek-themed video slot machine. In Membership Rewards terms, that was a loss of about 220 Amex points or about 1.83 points per second.

There was a glitzy, neon-lit, circular bar in the middle of one wing of the casino with several concentric tiers of liquors, but it was unmanned and unpatronized when I visited (which was before noon on a Sunday).

Unlike older casino hotels I’ve been to that have been converting from the smoky gambling dens of yesteryear to nonsmoking properties, the 8-year-old Saratoga Casino Hotel didn’t reek of decades-old cigarette smoke that had seeped into its pores. There was a glassed-in, well-sealed smoking chamber off the casino and leading to the trackside seat, however.

Pool

My kid loves swimming, so we went for a dip in the mildly heated indoor pool our first evening. It wasn’t deep enough for diving, but it was larger than the chlorinated puddles that most hotels these days have to qualify for the “pool” tag on Booking.com or Expedia, and we managed a few laps.

Saratoga Casino pool
This was a fun pool.

We’d found pool towels in our bathroom with a note saying that that’s what they were to be used for. The pool towels were good ones — heavy, fluffy, comfortable, and absorbent without getting soggy. They were pure white, though, so it did look like we were dripping water through the hotel hallways in our bath towels.

There was no lifeguard on duty. The front desk clerk told me the pool was open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

A final note on the pool: The first word out of my son’s mouth as he woke up the final morning of our stay was “Pool!” Take from that what you will.

Gym

The 24-hour-a-day gym was small and crammed with light free weights, aerobic equipment, and the other usual fitness bric-a-brac into a heavily mirrored room overlooking the pool through a glass wall.

Saratoga Casino gym
The gym was tiny.

Business Center

The business center was a single computer, keyboard, mouse, and printer in a cul-de-sac off the main hallway on the first floor. It looked like it had little use.

Saratoga Casino business center
Even the business center art was race-themed.

Deluxe Room, Track View

Our room was a pleasant spread of blue and tan streaks that reminded me of what happens when you let young boys tie-dye their own T-shirts.

The entry to the room was your standard hotel layout, with the bathroom immediately to one side and the connecting room on the opposite, except that the closet wasn’t by the doorway but in the main bedroom against the exterior wall.

The king-size bed was comfortable and neither too firm nor too soft, with a grand, quilted headboard. It was large enough to accommodate my wife, our child, and me, though that didn’t prevent our kindergartener from repositioning himself so that I spent all early morning with his foot in my ear.

Saratoga Casino main bedroom
If you think about it, all a hotel room really needs is a comfy bed and a private toilet.

The nightstand on the window side of the bed had a notepad, pen, lamp with USB-A ports, and landline phone. The nightstand on the other side had an alarm clock and another lamp.

Saratoga Casino nightstand
Note to self: Consider a trip to Wyoming.

The closet was against the exterior wall by the bed, behind a door decorated with interlaced circles. It contained a couple of hangers, an iron, and an ironing board.

Against the window were a pair of armchairs and a glass-topped table.

Saratoga Casino room entrance
You could say this room blue me away.

Behind the armchairs was the window, which, as promised, had a view of the track. It was a pretty good view of the track, in fact.

Saratoga Casino window view day
Horsey!

At night, the racetrack lit up, and my son and I watched the horses race and go through their paces during practice runs in our pajamas. (We were wearing pajamas, not the horses.) He got a real thrill from it and asked a lot of questions about the animals so that immediately demonstrated to me that it had been worth booking this unique room rather than yet another cookie-cutter chain hotel with a view of a parking lot — well, a view of only a parking lot.

Saratoga Casino window night view
His mudder was a mudder!

The hotel had cannily leaned into this, and the room came with a schedule of the week’s races and 2 pairs of binoculars.

Saratoga Casino room binoculars
The hotel provided extra pairs of eyes for the races.

In addition to the usual ice bucket and pair of glasses, our room also came with a breakfast tray and an empty glass carafe.

Saratoga Casino ice bucket
We had another kind of glasses to celebrate good fortune or commiserate over a loss.

The television was mounted on the wall above the chest of drawers, which held the minibar, coffee maker, and TV remote.

Saratoga Casino room TV
There was TV and coffee but no tea.

The petite coffee maker came with 2 bags of coffee and 2 hotel-branded mugs.

Saratoga Casino coffee maker
The caffeination station came with enough for 2, assuming they drank coffee.

The empty minibar was contained within the cabinet next to the drawers.

Saratoga Casino minifridge
Cool, cool, cool.

Bathroom

There’s a period in solo parenting a young child (whether temporarily or not) when any bathroom trip counts as a success if you come out of it with everyone’s underwear on, clean, and in the right place, enough remaining shirts and pants to last until you get home, enough toilet paper to last the rest of the day, and minimal tears and whining.

By that measure, this bathroom was a total success.

The bathroom wasn’t large, but my 6-year-old could spin around in it with arms outstretched without knocking anything over.

Saratoga Casino bathroom
The bathroom had no bath.

The shower, which wasn’t fancy, was clean and had good water pressure. The glass sliding door closed completely, which meant we didn’t have to track through puddles to brush our teeth at night, unlike at those hotels that prize aesthetics over the practicality of partially glassed-in showers with no doors at all.

The wall-mounted body wash and shampoo were by vegan-friendly, PETA-approved San Diego brand Bodyography.

Saratoga Casino shampoo

The toilet was in a half-partitioned vestibule to one corner by the shower. It wasn’t an exceptionally sturdy or comfortable toilet or seat, but it was clean and worked.

The wallpaper in the toilet area was an incredibly lush gray-on-gray floral pattern that evoked the heady heyday of Saratoga Springs.

Saratoga Casino  toilet
It’s like relieving yourself in J.P. Morgan’s summer house.

A sign on the toilet tank told us that, in the hotel’s efforts to reduce waste, maid service would only be provided if we requested it. We didn’t request maid service, as they’d provided everything we needed to make it through the weekend.

Food and Beverages

People come to the Saratoga Casino Hotel for the horses and the games of chance, not the food, so we mostly ate or bought food in town.

But it was a casino, so of course, there was a steakhouse.

Morton’s The Steakhouse

Saratoga Casino Morton's entrance
This was just Morton’s bar area. There was a larger dining room behind this we couldn’t get into.

The hotel’s main floor’s weird Gilded Age-meets-’80s aesthetic got even more bizarre in the lobby corner with the art deco chrome of Morton’s The Steakhouse in the lobby, the hotel’s only traditional sit-down restaurant.

We didn’t eat here, as Morton’s is a big chain with a reputation for being hit or miss with the food and overpriced (it’s $6 for flavored butter), but it was so crowded on Friday and Saturday nights that the restaurant had to set guests up on tables in the lobby outside the actual perimeter of Morton’s.

Grab-and-Go Market

Next to the Morton’s was a self-serve, grab-and-go hotel convenience store with coffee, bottled drinks, snacks, and Saratoga Casino Hotel merch. My son begged for a black-and-white cookie here, and I caved in, but it only cost a couple of dollars, a reasonable price for a large hotel cookie these days.

Casino Buffet

The casino buffet, which was at the back of the casino but with a view of the track, had a short menu of a handful of choices (largely sandwiches for lunch and a couple of standard breakfast meals in the morning).

Saratoga Casino buffet
Casino buffet or high school cafeteria?

I ordered a $15 Western omelet with lightly toasted marble rye, sausage patties, and hash browns.

Surprisingly, the omelet was made to order and ready in a few minutes. However, the mushrooms had been finely diced, so I lost about a third of them to the awkward tines of my plastic fork. Everything else was fine but unremarkable. It was generously portioned but wasn’t worth $15.

Saratoga Casino breakfast
I had lotsa circles for breakfast.

The big selling point of the casino bar was that it sat on a corner of the racetrack and had a view out to the horses practicing. It was a lot more fun watching horses canter outside than watching senior citizens inside giving computer screens their pensions.

Saratoga Casino buffet track view
You can kind of make out the horse and jockey by the pole.

Diamond Jim’s Bar

Part of the 2017 renovation was a casino bar. Diamond Jim’s wasn’t huge, but it had a lot of screens with race results. It wasn’t open when I was there, and was roped off, so I couldn’t explore further.

Saratoga Casino Diamond Jims
I was barred from Diamond Jim’s Bar.

VIP Lounge

I could not find it and was not invited into the casino’s VIP lounge.

See? Not a single gambling pun since the intro.

Service

The staff at the Saratoga Casino Hotel were personable, proactively helpful, and good-natured. They cracked jokes at check-in and reached out to get my wife’s name after I told them she’d arrive after midnight on our stay’s second night. It’s the kind of place where the staff called me by my first name when they saw me, and I didn’t mind because it was just that kind of vibe.

Final Thoughts

You’ve probably sussed out that I’m not a big gambler and not into horses, obviously the 2 primary demographics for a casino hotel in Saratoga Springs that calls itself the Saratoga Casino Hotel. It’s also not convenient for strolling to downtown Saratoga Springs — and there are a number of hotels right on Broadway. If we return to Saratoga Springs, I’d probably stay someplace right downtown so I could walk with my son to the ice cream shop and bookstore, which we ended up frequenting daily.

But I have no regrets about staying at the Saratoga Casino Hotel. I would recommend it to anyone who likes casino games, likes the horses, or wants to try a one-of-a-kind hotel amenity right outside their bedroom window.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the Saratoga Casino Hotel?

The Saratoga Casino Hotel is in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, about 165 miles due north of New York City. It is not in Wyoming, AmexTravel.com confirmation-email-writing guy.

Is Saratoga Casino Hotel a points-and-miles hotel?

The hotel is owned by Saratoga Casino Holdings LLC and isn’t part of any major hotel chains or their loyalty programs, but you can book it on points through AmexTravel.com.

Is the racetrack at Saratoga Casino Hotel the same as the Saratoga Race Course?

The Saratoga Casino Hotel racetrack is a half-mile standardbred racetrack used for harness racing. It is not the same as or connected to the Saratoga Race Course, the better-known thoroughbred race course that hosts the Midsummer Derby.

How far is the Saratoga Casino Hotel from downtown Saratoga Springs and the Saratoga Race Course?

The hotel is about a 10-minute drive from central Broadway, the main street of Saratoga Springs, and about a 5-minute drive from the Saratoga Race Course.

Michael Y. Park's image

About Michael Y. Park

Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and queen of Malaysia, tramped around organic farms in Cuba, ridden the world’s longest train through the Sahara, and choked down gasoline clams in North Korea.

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