Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino (formerly known as Harrah’s Chester) is located on the Chester, PA waterfront and can be reached from Philadelphia in about a half hour by driving south along I-95. The facility is actually a racino, consisting of both a casino and a racetrack. The racetrack, which is for harness racing only, opened in September 2006. The casino opened a few months later on January 22, 2007.
Harrah’s Philadelphia is one of six licensed racinos in Pennsylvania. The property features about 2,900 slots along with a much bigger selection of table games than most Pennsylvania casinos.
No hotel, but casino feels like home
Unlike most Caesars-owned casinos, Harrah’s Philadelphia has no hotel on the premises, so those who want to visit for more than one day will have to find accommodations in the area. Many guests choose to stay at one of the Philadelphia airport hotels since the airport (only ten minutes away) is closer to Harrah’s than Center City Philadelphia.
Harrah’s Philadelphia won’t win any for décor or ambiance anytime soon, but it does a great job of creating a friendly and welcoming environment. Not only this Harrah’s Casino, but Harrah’s Casinos all over the country receive consistent praise from their customers with regard to the hospitality and friendliness of their staff. Not every casino realizes that making guests feel welcome and appreciated can go a long way towards making a visit, win or lose, more enjoyable. Harrah’s management should be commended for showing that kind of interest.
The casino at Harrah’s Philadelphia is open year-round 24/7, while the racetrack is open for live racing from March through December. Horse racing fans can also bet on and watch races from other tracks around the country, which are simulcast every day.
Dining and entertainment
Besides gambling, this facility’s other amenities include five restaurants, two shops for essentials and gifts, and varied entertainment. There used to be a buffet, but it closed and The Block Entertainment Center opened up in its place.
Restaurants include the fine dining fare Cove Steakhouse & Raw Bar (open Thursday – Sunday), and for more casual dining, Caffe Napoli, Riverview Tavern, Philly Steak Shack, Mien (an Asian restaurant) and Guy Fieri’s Philly Kitchen & Bar. Based on Yelp reviews and other sites, the general consensus among guests is that the food could be better. The entertainment at the C-Bar includes local musicians, singers, dancers, and DJs. The performances at The Block are more diverse and include vintage entertainers like the Goo Goo Dolls and Tony Orlando, as well as comedians and specialty shows.
Who can play in the casino?
The minimum age to gamble at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino is 21. This is the same minimum age for gambling all of the licensed Pennsylvania land-based casinos. This age requirement is strictly enforced. The racetrack allows anyone 18 and up to place bets on the races. Children accompanied by an adult are allowed to be in the grandstands for race days as well.
Security and fairness
Players at this casino have complained about the slots being tight, but there are similar complaints with regard to the slot payouts at all Pennsylvania casinos, so Harrah’s is not any worse than the others in this respect.
Harrah’s Philadelphia, like all land-based Pennsylvania casinos, is licensed and regulated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). This agency, which is responsible for overseeing all legalized gambling in the state, holds Pennsylvania casinos to strict regulations regarding permissible games, rules, and payouts.
In addition, Harrah’s is a very well known and highly regarded brand with many years of experience in the gambling industry. The first Harrah’s Casino in Reno was established in 1937. Caesars Entertainment Corporation is the current owner/operator of Harrah’s Philadelphia and other Harrah’s and affiliated casinos throughout the U.S. Caesars is also is the largest provider of branded casino gambling and entertainment in the world. Players at Harrah’s Philadelphia can be assured of a safe and secure gambling environment. All of the games offered are in full compliance with the standards of the PGCB and give players a fair chance to win.
The casino offers all of the popular casino games. Regardless of whether your preference runs to slots, video poker, table games, specialty games, or poker, there is enough variety to suit almost any gambler’s tastes. When you want to try a different form of gambling, betting on live or simulcast races is another exciting option.
If you are a slot player, you never have to be worried about being bored at this casino. It is packed with more than 2,900 slots. The denominations you can choose from start at one cent and go all the way up to $100. In other words, there are slot games for everyone from the penny player to the high roller.
All types of slots are included from simple, retro-style slots to gigantic, state-of-the-art video slots with all the bells and whistles you might expect in such machines and more and, for those times when you’re feeling especially lucky, progressive jackpot machines.
Frequent players will recognize many familiar favorites like Wheel of Fortune and Jackpot Party. Alternatively, the allure of a new game might attract your attention.
Among the hot new video slots worth checking out are Wizard of Oz and Monopoly Prime Real Estate. Both of these games use the revolutionary Gamefield XD gaming platform with dual vertical 32 inch super-HD displays. The dazzling visuals and highly engaging interactive bonus rounds will keep you riveted to the screen.
Michael Jackson King of Pop exemplifies slot entertainment taken to the max as well, with fantastic audio, thrilling bonuses, and a huge progressive jackpot. Also be sure to check out the featured 2x comp games in the New Games area.
Asian players will especially like the new Asian slots gaming area next to Mien Restaurant featuring the games 50 Dragons and 50 Dragons Deluxe. High rollers have a separate slot area designed especially for them too. The high limit slots area includes 90 machines with denominations up to $100, a host desk, and personalized VIP service. Or, if you prefer, there is a completely non-smoking slot area featuring penny, nickel, and quarter slot machines.
Slot payouts could be better
Even in the separate nonsmoking areas, since they are very close to the games where smoking is allowed, players complain that they still smell the smoke. This is a common complaint not only at this casino but at all Pennsylvania casinos. It is also a problem that can potentially affect a lot of people’s health, so it needs to be addressed.
Another frequent complaint is that that it is very hard to win at the slots because the machines are too tight. This complaint also appears to be a valid one, and applies not only to Harrah’s but to Pennsylvania casinos in general. The average return to the player (RTP) for slot machines at Pennsylvania casinos is only 89-90 percent. This is above the minimum of 85 percent stipulated by the PGCB, but still not great.
There are several likely explanations why Pennsylvania slots do not offer a better rate of return. For example, penny machines are very popular lately, and not just with very small players. In fact, penny machines can often be as expensive as quarter machines with multiple coin play. Yet the payback percentage is less than on higher denomination machines. Also, the relatively high 55 percent tax rate on slots in Pennsylvania is probably another reason why the casinos there are not giving slot players a better deal.
The video poker section offers a wide variety of games, including Game King multi-denomination games where you can choose both your desired denomination and the variation of video poker you want to play.
Harrah’s Philadelphia also offers a wide variety of table games, including all of the following:
- Midi and mini-Baccarat
- EZ Baccarat
- Spanish 21
- Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em
- Let It Ride
- Stud poker
- Mississippi Stud
- Three card poker
- Four card poker
- Pai gow
- EZ Pai gow
- Pai gow tiles
Some of these games may be new to you. If so, be sure you fully understand all of the rules before you start playing. For example, in EZ baccarat, instead of a five percent commission being assessed on winning Banker bets, any otherwise winning Banker hand adding up to seven is considered a push.
Roulette players should avoid the high house edge of American roulette with both a single and double zero on the wheel. They should only play European roulette with just a single zero on the wheel. This one difference between the two games might seem trivial, but it isn’t. The house edge for American roulette is 5.26 percent. The house edge for European roulette is 2.70 percent.
Blackjack is the most popular table game at Harrah’s Philadelphia. Since it is also a game where the outcome depends partly on skill as well as luck, knowing the rules of the game and the correct basic strategy can greatly improve your chances of winning.
Virtually all decent size legal casinos offer one or more versions of blackjack. However, depending on where you play the specific rules and other features of the game (such as number of decks, placement of the cut card, etc.) vary. One advantage to playing blackjack in Pennsylvania is that the PGCB has stipulated the rules for this game, and they are uniform for every casino in the state. A second advantage is that the rules are more favorable to the player than what you will generally find elsewhere.
These are the important rules for the blackjack games at Harrah’s Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania casinos:
- 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
This combination of rules brings the house edge that a basic strategy player would face in this game to about .40 percent, making it one of the better blackjack games in the country. However, two criticisms players have about the Harrah’s game are worth noting.
A warning for card counters and low stakes players
The first, which primarily affects card counters, is that only about 2/3 of the cards are dealt (the cut card is placed at least two decks before the end of a six-deck shoe). The other complaint comes from low stakes players. There are no $5 minimum blackjack tables at all, and even on a weekday, the likelihood of being able to play at a $10 minimum table is slim. Conditions are always crowded, so the lowest minimum tables available are the first to fill up. Open seats at table minimums below $15 on weekdays and below $25 on weekends are virtually nonexistent.
In addition to the standard blackjack bets (hit, stand, double, split, and surrender), blackjack players at Harrah’s Philadelphia can make an optional side bet on a proposition called Lucky Ladies. This is a bet that your first two cards add up to 20. Any 20 pays 4-1, but the payout is higher if both cards are the same suit or identical. The top payout occurs when a player has two queens of hearts and the dealer has a blackjack (highly unlikely). Keep in mind that your best bet in blackjack (assuming you are not counting cards) is to follow basic strategy. So while a small Lucky Ladies proposition bet might be fun once in a while, you should not make a habit of it.
HP Poker Room
The Harrah’s Philadelphia Poker Room, like the main casino, is open 24/7. It is the only World Series of Poker (WSOP) poker room in the Philadelphia area. The room includes 28 tables and offers limit and no-limit hold ‘em, stud, and Omaha. The limit games start at $2-$4-$6 and go up to $20-$40. No-limit games range from $1-$2 up to $10-$25. Poker players are comped for cash game play based on type of game and number of hours they play.
In addition to the cash games, there are both regularly scheduled and special tournaments. There is also a high hand promotion in effect every day but Saturday.
Total Rewards program
Pennsylvania residents and visitors can choose from a dozen different land-based casinos, so unless you already have a favorite go-to place to gamble, you might have a tough time picking one over another. The most compelling reason to play at Harrah’s Philadelphia is its superior multi-casino player rewards program called Total Rewards.
Casinos almost have to offer some sort of incentive in the form of player rewards to keep their customers happy and make them want to return. Accordingly, all of the Pennsylvania land-based casinos have a program in place for rewarding players for their patronage and activity. However, in this reviewer’s opinion, none of the others can offer anything close to the convenience, versatility, flexibility, and extent of benefits of the aptly named Total Rewards Program.
Total Rewards is a special program that only Caesars Entertainment-owned casinos offer. If you don’t already have a Total Rewards Card, the next time you visit Harrah’s Philadelphia or any other casino participating in the program, you can visit the Total Rewards Center and obtain a card instantly free of charge. Then, each time you play at a participating casino, all you have to do to earn rewards is insert the card into the slot machine you are playing or present it at the start of play at a table game.
All of your play at participating casinos, including not only land-based casinos, but also online casinos (for example, if you have access to the New Jersey sites) is pooled together. So it is entirely up to you where and when you want to redeem your rewards. For example, you can play at Harrah’s Philadelphia, but save your comps to use towards a meal on your next trip to Harrah’s (or another Caesars’ owned casino) in Atlantic City or Las Vegas
Credit and tier categories
There are two types of credits that you earn based on your play: reward credits and tier credits. Reward credits can either be converted into cash or you can use them just like cash towards:
- Hotel stays
- Gift shop purchases
- Other amenities at any participating Caesars property
You can also earn extra reward credits based on the money you spend out of pocket on these amenities, as well as on purchases at designated local restaurants and retail shops. Every 100 reward credits is equivalent to $1 in spending money.
The Total Rewards Program has four tiers:
- Seven Stars
The number of tier points you have at any given time, which is reset back to zero on the first day of each year, determines your tier placement. In order to qualify for Platinum, Diamond, or Seven Stars status, you must earn 5,000, 15,000,or 150,000 points, respectively. Each higher level opens up additional enhanced rewards and privileges.
Ordinarily, one of the perks of top-tier status is complimentary hotel stays. But since Harrah’s Philadelphia doesn’t have a hotel, a player’s host can possibly arrange for the casino to pick up the cost of accommodations at a hotel nearby.
Diamond and Seven Star privileges
Depending on the player’s status, access to the Diamond Club or Seven Stars Lounge is another special privilege that is available only to those who qualify. However, Harrah’s Philadelphia doesn’t have a Seven Stars Lounge so, unlike Diamond level players, who can only visit the Diamond Club once a day, Seven Stars members and guests have unlimited visiting privileges.
Curiously, alcoholic beverages are not comped in the Diamond Lounge. This decision has many patrons, who spend staggering amounts of money in the casino, in an uproar. Some of the other enhanced rewards reserved for the casino’s top players are:
- Comped meals and shows
- Priority service
- Special gifts
- Getaway vacations
- Invitations to exclusive events
While Seven Stars players at Harrah’s Philadelphia may feel shortchanged by the absence of both a Seven Stars Lounge and a hotel, this casino makes up for it in a way by offering them a fantastic reward that is not available elsewhere. Every year they can have a horse race named after them (or another designated person). Then, after the race, the player and guest get their photo taken with the winning horse. They also receive a $25 credit to bet on another race and a $125 food credit.
In addition, every Saturday, Seven Stars members are invited to a “happy hour” with complimentary cocktails and hors-d’oeuvres. The highlight of the happy hour is a special drawing where five cardholders win $100 in free slot play.
Total Rewards offers something for everyone
Clearly, Harrah’s Philadelphia is a gambling facility that goes out of its way to treat its top players like royalty. But what makes Total Rewards a truly great program is only in part that it is high-roller friendly. All players, even small bettors, can earn enough reward credits to receive extra cash or convert their credits into casino comps. They can also access ongoing and special promotions. All players receive a small discount on the price of their meal at casino restaurants.
There is no such thing as a casino that is perfect in every respect and capable of completely satisfying every player. So we would be remiss in this review if we didn’t briefly mention some of the things which many of this casino’s customers have found not to their liking:
- Food could be better
- Beverage service could be faster
- No free drinks in the Diamond Club when they are complimentary on the casino floor
- Smell of smoke in the casino
- Tight slots
- Minimums on table games are too high
- Hard to earn decent comps from table game play
On the hand, players find the staff to be very courteous and friendly. Total Rewards and customer service staff and personal hosts do whatever they can to address players’ concerns and be accommodating. Furthermore, there is plenty of game variety, live and simulcast racing, and nightlife. Harrah’s Philadelphia is not only a fun place to gamble but also a fun place to spend an evening, have a pleasant meal and be entertained.
The Total Rewards Program, which Harrah’s Philadelphia participates in, is a standout because it rewards all levels of players and offers complete flexibility. Players also appreciate the convenience of the Caesars Priority Total Touch System, which allows them to check their Total Rewards account balance and redeem free play and other offers instantly any time.
While the lack of an on-site hotel is no doubt a big inconvenience for some players, what is nice about this casino’s location is its proximity to Philadelphia. Ultimately, you will have to weigh both the positives and negatives of this particular casino in order to decide if it is for you, but we think the pluses outweigh the minuses.
777 Harrah’s Blvd.
Chester, PA 19013
Philadelphia, PA 19125