This Pennsylvania racino, conveniently situated just 20 minutes north of Center City Philadelphia, combines a thoroughbred horse racing track with the largest casino gaming complex in Pennsylvania. It is one of six licensed racinos in Pennsylvania. With more than 3,500 slot machines, 130+ table games, two poker rooms, an innovative form of gambling called hybrid games (live dealer blackjack, roulette, and baccarat played at a slot terminal), and live and simulcast racing, Parx is a Pennsylvania gambler’s paradise.
Two years after the 2004 legalization of casino slots gambling in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) awarded Philadelphia Park a conditional slots license, whereupon construction of the new casino began. The casino officially opened on December 21, 2006 with a permanent license. On July 4, 2009, the casino and racetrack unveiled a new name, Parx.
Table games did not become legal in Pennsylvania until 2010. Parx Casino started adding table games in July of that year. In December, 2010, the facility added a second building called Parx East in order to make room for additional slots and table games.
Parx Casino and Racing is open every day of the year, 24/7. The live racing season runs from February through December, and Saturday through Tuesday are the designated racing days. However, wagering on races from other tracks is available even when Parx Racetrack is dark.
If you work up an appetite from all the action at this large gambling complex, no worries. You have plenty of options ranging from a quick snack on the go to leisurely fine dining.
Parxgrill, open nightly, is this facility’s award-winning upscale signature restaurant, featuring both classic cuisine and seasonal specialties. Or, for more casual fare, choose from:
- Bambu Noodle House
- Chickie’s & Pete’s
- Earl of Sandwich
- Sang Kee Noodle House (in Parx East)
- Paddock Grill for fast food (in Parx East)
- Foodies, a 24/7 eatery
Entertainment and nightlife
As for entertainment, Parx doesn’t begin to compare with Las Vegas, but if you would be content with a place to relax and unwind over a couple of drinks, there are options galore. For example, the Xlounge not only serves wine, craft beer, and cocktails, but also has a high-end food menu. And if you go during Happy Hour, Wednesday-Sunday, 4-6 p.m., small plates and drinks start at just $4.
Alternatively, you can enjoy Happy Hour with drink and appetizer specialties from 5 to 7 p.m. every day of the week at a bar in the main casino called 360, while either Chickie’s & Pete’s or Jax would be the perfect gathering place for sports fans. At Jax, gamblers can have a drink, watch the game on TV, and play video poker all at the same time.
Even the upscale and very expensive Parxgrill has a Happy Hour. Every day but Saturday, between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., select appetizers and drinks are 50 percent off.
On Friday and Saturday nights the entertainment picks up. Every Friday is not just TGIF but Get Lucky Friday for those enjoying the live bands and drink specials at 360 from 5-7 p.m. After dark, on both Friday and Saturday night, 360 turns into a dance club featuring celebrity DJs, tribute and cover bands, cabarets and other entertainment.
During the week, there is also a lot going on entertainment-wise at 360, including Comedy Night every Wednesday and Latin Night every Thursday, when guests can get a free dance lesson. Any Sunday between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., if you’re a rock star or showbiz wannabe, 360 wants to hear from you. The club is offering you the “opportunity to let your inner rock star loose” on the 360 stage and “be a star at Parx!”
Clearly, Parx is a fun place to be anytime, and if you feel like gambling or partying until the wee hours of the morning, you certainly can. Parx, which can be easily accessed from I-95, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and U.S. 1, offers free parking for more than 5,000 cars, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you like. Parx can also be reached by Septa bus. However, if you reach the point where you have had enough play for one day, but are too tired to drive home or it is too late to take the bus, you need a contingency plan. If you need a place to park yourself for the night and expect to find it at Parx, you are out of luck.
While one way for a casino to get around not being allowed to have a hotel right on the premises is to have one next door, Parx does not offer that amenity. The closest lodging is a half-mile away. However, simply being a member of Xclub (the casino’s player club), entitles you to a discounted rate at any of the following hotels:
Radisson Hotel Northeast Philadelphia
- $99 per night plus tax
- Use group code PAR
Best Western Plus
- $85 per night plus tax
- includes free breakfast and Wi-Fi
- Use group code ParxPoker
Courtyard Marriott – Bensalem
- $109 per night plus tax
- Use group code PXCH
Extended Stay America
- $69 per night plus tax
- includes free Wi-Fi
- Use group code EAPAR
Who can play in the casino?
The minimum age to gamble at Parx Casino and Racetrack is 21, the same as at all of the licensed Pennsylvania casinos. This age requirement, set by the PGCB, is strictly enforced.
Security and fairness
Parx Casino and Racing, along with all of the other currently operating legal casinos in Pennsylvania, is licensed and regulated by the PGCB. This agency continues to monitor all aspects of each facility’s operation to ensure and maintain the highest standards for security and fairness.
Another reason Parx is safe and secure is its own long and impressive history in the gambling business. The racetrack has been not only been operating successfully for more than 40 years, it also features prestigious races like the Pennsylvania Derby. Obviously, the horses’ owners and trainers are not about to jeopardize their well-earned professional reputation by being involved in any way with an operation whose integrity is in the least bit suspect.
Furthermore, out of all of the casinos in Pennsylvania, Parx was singled out to receive Philadelphia Magazine’s Best of Philly Award for 2016. While this casino, along with all of the other Pennsylvania casinos, has had its share of complaints from slots players about the machines being tight, the figures for July, 2016 show that the returns at Parx are above the norm for this state. Out of the 12 currently operating Pennsylvania casinos, a comparison of the slots payouts for July, 2016 showed that Parx was the best of the bunch with a payback percentage of 91.1 percent.
Since Parx Casino began operating in 2006, the gaming area has been expanded to include additional floor space in an adjacent building called Parx East. Altogether, the casino consists of more than 3,500 slot machines and more than 130 live table games encompassing a gaming area of more than 260,000 square feet. There are also two poker rooms, a premier poker room in the main casino containing 80 tables and another poker room with 45 tables in Parx East. The Park East building also overlooks the racetrack, where a full program of live thoroughbred racing is offered on scheduled days throughout the racing season. Even on the days when there is no live racing bets are taken on races at other tracks, and racing fans can watch the action as it is simulcast on TV.
Both the slot machine areas and table games areas of the casino include separate sections designated as smoking or non-smoking. However, many players have complained that the smoke travels, so in the so-called non-smoking sections of the casino, they still smell the smoke. This is a recurrent complaint of players at all the Pennsylvania casinos.
Parx Casino is a place with lots and lots of slots. But for any true slots lover, there can never be a casino with too many of these machines. At Parx, you can take your pick from a tremendous selection of popular games. The casino offers everything from simple reel machines to the latest video slots, and novelty, and jackpot slots. Stakes range from a penny to $100 per spin.
Some of the newer featured slots at Parx Casino that are receiving a lot of play are:
- Willy Wonka
- The Walking Dead
- Michael Jackson King of Pop,
- Superman the Movie
- Black Window
- Cherry Mischief
High-end slot players may want to check out Xclusive, a separate gaming area offering the most popular slots, with denominations starting at $1, going up to $100. Special amenities include premium beverage service, a private cashier, and a casino host available 24/7.
Slot returns higher than other PA casinos
We stated earlier in this review that slot players at all of the Pennsylvania casinos, including Parx, feel that the machines are tighter than they should be. However, according to the data on actual slot payout percentages for the different casinos for July, 2016, the payout at Parx Casino was higher than anywhere else. It is unclear whether this was just an isolated instance or if the payouts at Parx are consistently higher.
In any case, it is true that it may be tougher for slot players to win in Pennsylvania than in many other locations due to the fact that the average return to the player (RTP) is indeed lower. The minimum percentage that slot machines can return in Pennsylvania, as stipulated by the PGCB is only 85 percent.
Due to popular demand, there are an increasing number of penny slot machines. The low coin size appeals to many gamblers, though it is easy to forget that with the high multiple-coin options, play on these machines can often wind up being expensive anyway. Unfortunately, regardless of how many coins the penny player feeds into the machine at a time, the payback percentage for penny machines is less than it is for higher denomination machines.
Therefore, if you are going to play slots at Parx Casino, you might be better off not playing the penny machines. However, don’t exceed the budget you have set aside for playing and, win or lose, keep your playing sessions to a reasonable length. Don’t chase your losses, but when you’re winning, keep in mind that your luck could change at any time.
Video poker and other electronic games
Slot machines are far from the only electronic games at Parx Casino. There are also many varieties of video poker and more than 100 terminals offering electronic blackjack, single zero roulette, and three card poker. Hybrid games, which are electronic machines that look like a slot machine, but are really table games, and even have a live dealer, are another popular choice.
The expansion of Parx Casino to a second building gave the casino the extra room it needed not only to add more slots, but also introduce a greater variety of table games. Parx Casino currently offers the following table games:
- Midi and mini-Baccarat
- Spanish 21
- Three card poker
- Four card poker
- Pai gow poker
- Pai gow tiles
- Sic Bo
- Let It Ride
- Casino War
- Big Six wheel
It is important to familiarize yourself with the format and rules of whatever game you decide to play. Also, try to avoid the games with the highest house and instead play the games like blackjack, craps, and baccarat, which give you a better chance to win. One game that has a very high house edge and therefore you should not make a habit of playing is the Big Six wheel.
Table games limits
As with the slots, table game players can choose from a wide range of betting limits. However, on weekends and holidays, low stakes players will probably find their options extremely limited. Typically, blackjack players complain about not being able to find any tables with less than a $25 minimum, but at Parx, even for roulette, the minimum bet on a weekend is reported to be $15.
Speaking of roulette, if you play this game, you should stick to European roulette and avoid the higher house edge of American roulette. The difference is that European roulette has just a single zero on the wheel, whereas American roulette has both a single and double zero. The extra zero raises the house edge from 2.70 percent to 5.26 percent.
Big bettors might prefer playing in the high limit room. This special enclave offers high stakes tables, a private bar and restroom, one-on-one customer service, premium beverage service, and menu offerings from the casino’s signature steakhouse, Parxgrill.
With its reputation as both a game with a low house edge and one where both luck and skill determine the outcome, blackjack the casino’s most popular table game.
Blackjack comes in many different variations, and these differences in the rules can also affect the likelihood of winning. But, in case you are wondering if any Pennsylvania casinos offer a better blackjack game than the others, the answer is that where you play doesn’t matter. All of the Pennsylvania casinos have the same rules, which have been preset by the PGCB and which give Pennsylvania one of the best blackjack games in the country. There is still a small house edge, but using basic strategy, it is only about .40 percent. Here are the PA 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 (If the dealer does not have a blackjack, players who don’t like their hand can choose not to play it and give up half their bet.)
Blackjack side bets
Where the individual Pennsylvania casinos may differ is in the optional side bets that blackjack players can also make. These extra bets add to the cost of playing and have a higher house edge than the standard bets (following basic strategy), so other than making them very occasionally for small stakes just for fun, they are not recommended.
Parx Casino offers a side bet called Match the Dealer. This is a bet that at least one of the player’s first two cards numerically matches the dealer’s upcard. The winning payouts for six-deck games are:
- one unsuited match: 4 to 1
- two unsuited matches: 8 to 1
- one suited match: 11 to 1
- one unsuited and one suited match: 15 to 1
- two suited matches: 22 to 1
The winning payouts for eight-deck games are:
- one unsuited match: 3 to 1
- two unsuited matches: 6 to 1
- one suited match: 14 to 1
- one unsuited and one suited match: 17 to 1
- two suited matches: 28 to 1
These games, which are exclusive to Parx Casino, combine the excitement of live dealer table game play with the convenience of slot play. Players sit at individual slot terminals, and the game is transmitted from the dealer’s table via live streaming. All betting takes place on a touch screen. Table minimums start at $5.
Shaq Blackjack features stadium style seating, standard blackjack bets, and side bets themed around NBA star Shaquille O’Neal. The game uses real cards, which appear on the screen. But instead of being seated at a table with other other players, it’s just you vs. the dealer, so you never have to concern yourself with how others are playing their hands. Fusion roulette and fusion baccarat allow players to bet on up to four live games at the same time.
The Parx Poker Room is regarded as the number-one place to play poker in Pennsylvania. However, the downside for casual recreational players is that this room, far more than some of the other Pennsylvania poker rooms, attracts more than its share of sharks and pros. The word among poker players in the know is that the amount of money that gets splashed around in the Parx Poker Room is incredible. So if you are a small player just starting out, you could be intimidated, and this room could be risky to your bankroll.
During busy hours, no-limit and limit hold ‘em and Omaha and Omaha hi-lo are all available. The most popular cash game is $1-$2 no-limit. There are no smaller games and some of the games are much bigger. Many poker players visit Parx specifically for the high limit action or weekly or special tournaments. The room’s amenities include a full menu and bar service and free Wi-Fi.
Big Stax and other tournaments
You will need both deep pockets and a lot of time on your hands to play in some of the special multi-day tournaments like the Big Stax events running periodically throughout the year.
Other tournaments that are more traditional in structure and less expensive are the regular Tuesday night no-limit hold ‘em tournament and Thursday night Survivor tournament. Both have 20-minute blinds and a buy-in and entry fee of $100 + $20. All winners in the Survivor tournament receive the same prize of $1,000.
Other options for tournament players include re-entry, bounty, and turbo tournaments, with buy-ins and entry fees ranging from $65 + $15 to $200 + $30.
Special promotions for poker players include high hand promotions and drawings for prizes.
Parx Casino and Racing has a loyalty rewards program called Xclub. If you’re not already a member, you can sign up online, then visit the Xclub booth in the casino to pick up your player’s card. Your new member offer, $10 in free slot play, will be on your card, ready to use.
All Xclub cardholders earn points (credits) for their play. These credits can be used as comp dollars at any food and beverage outlet of your choosing on the property. Players earn one credit for every $20 wagered on slots or $60 wagered on video poker. Table gameplay also earns credits, but the rates vary. Comp dollars expire 90 days from the time they are earned.
In addition, based on play, you may qualify for free slot play and match play offers, sweepstakes entries, and other special perks like Xtra Play.
The number of credits earned in a six-months period determine your card status for the next six months. Free slot play and Xtra Play don’t count toward your status level. There are three levels:
- Players: 999 credits or less
- Premium: 1,000+ credits
- Elite: 7,500+ credits
All players, regardless of level, are entitled to all of the following:
- Free slot play and food and beverage offers
- Access to current promotions
- Community partner offers (discounts on purchases or services)
- Entries into sweepstakes
- Birthday offers
- Complimentary casino floor beverage service
Premium players receive additional benefits, including:
- Complimentary casino floor top shelf beverage service
- Free valet service
- No cover charge at 360
- Exclusive invitations
Elite players receive all of the enhanced benefits of Premium card membership plus:
- Priority lines for the Xclub, cashier, and valet
- Private gated parking
- Priority restaurant reservations
- Gift pickup.
Xtra Play is a special perk based on slot play only. Players at any status level are eligible, but in order to qualify, it is necessary to earn at least ten points in a single gaming day. Any earned Xtra Play becomes available starting at 9 a.m. the next day and is valid for 45 days.
Use your Xclub card outside of Parx
The Xclub card is also honored at various Parx Community Partners. Simply present your Xclub card to a participating retailer to receive a special offer or discount. For example, if you wish to stay overnight at one of the participating hotels mentioned in the first section of this review, use the designated code when you make your reservation. When you check in, present your Xclub card. This will entitle you to the special discounted rate.
If Parx Casino and Racing sounds like the type of place where you would like to try your luck, it is impossible not to be impressed by the dazzling visual displays. This gambling facility goes all out to convince you that if you are a casino player, poker player, and/or racing fan, and partying the night away is your idea of fun, too, there is no place you would rather be.
Things to improve
On the other hand, Parx is not for everyone. Parx is not known for being particularly generous with comps for lower-end players, so keep that in mind. If you play table games for less than $25 a hand your choice of tables be extremely limited. You can probably get more bang for your buck elsewhere. Likewise, if you are a casual recreational poker player, you will probably feel more comfortable and your money will last longer in another room that is more beginner friendly.
- Friendlier staff
- Faster beverage service
- Slots that are less tight
- Table games with lower minimums, and better comps
- The smell of smoke in nonsmoking areas
In addition, there have been a slew of complaints recently about gift giveaway promotions where the casino runs out of the promised gift early. While the players who can’t get the gift receive free slot play instead, they feel shortchanged.
Another consideration, particularly if you live a long distance away, is that there is no hotel on the premises. You will need to make your own arrangements beforehand. Also, while free parking is plentiful, you may have to walk a long distance to get to the casino.
Upside of Parx
There are many things that are great about Parx:
- Tremendous variety of games, including unique innovative games
- Excellent blackjack rules
- Slot payouts that are better than other Pennsylvania casinos
- Outstanding racing
- Above-average restaurants, bars, and evening entertainment
Parx is a fun place to play, and whether you come just for the day or evening or make your visit a longer one, a good time awaits you and there is no way you can possibly be bored. If you love action and excitement, Parx is the place to be.
Parx Casino and Racing
2999 Street Road
Bensalem, PA 19024