You can pack several vacations into one brief stay at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. The recent completion of the resort’s $650 million expansion more than doubled the games it offers and provided lots more to do during a day trip or multiple-day getaway.
The action never stops at the casino, which operates around the clock every day of the year. The 150,000-square-foot gaming room has everything from penny slots to high-stakes live cards. The floor is always humming with activity somewhere, and on weekends the whole place is jumping.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is now so much to do that you likely won’t leave the 56-acre property, though you may want to if you bring your family. Children are welcome anywhere in the resort except the gaming areas. About an hour’s drive from Asheville, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is the largest hotel in the Carolinas. Its 1,001 rooms and 107 luxury suites in three towers are 98 percent occupied year-round, drawing guests primarily from Asheville, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Knoxville. Many don’t come to gamble at all but are there for shows at the 3,035-seat Event Center and to dine at the resort’s 10 restaurants. Many come just to be soothed and pampered at Mandara Spa.
“This is a weekend getaway for my wife and me,” Josh Jones of Knoxville said recently, taking a break from playing craps. “It’s a win-win for both of us. She gets to go to the spa, and I get to have some fun gambling. The food is good, and the atmosphere is always really busy.”
HONORING THE LAND
The earth-toned resort, owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation, is managed by Caesars Entertainment, the world’s largest casino entertainment company. Its award-winning design by the international design firm Cuningham Group Architecture honors Cherokee tradition by paying homage to the land on which it sits. The resort’s undulating roof-lines mimic the roll and rise of the mountains that surround them. Soco Creek, a bold body of water, runs through the property, dividing the dog-friendly hotel from the casino and running beneath the two huge sky bridges that connect the two.
The surrounding mountains are referenced throughout the resort’s architecture. Columns inside the casino resemble massive trees. Crystal balls threaded from the ceiling look like water droplets clinging to a spider’s web. Shimmering sculptures above the gaming area simulate clouds and rushing water. Players direct friends to find them by the region they’re playing in—Earth Water, Woodland Moon and Mountain Breeze.
The first thing you notice about the casino when you enter is how vast it is. The floor seems to go on forever, pinging and dinging with the sounds of 4,000 slot machines. Bursts of applause arise from the 130 live tables. Colorful carpet and high ceilings absorb most of the chatter of thousands of people trying their luck. Lighting is low. Televisions turned to games and sports shows are everywhere. The commercial-free music, relentlessly upbeat, is familiar to anyone who came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Servers wearing paprika-colored uniforms circulate with trays of free coffee, water, and soft drinks. Smoking is allowed in the general gaming area on the main floor but not in the Food Court, in the non-smoking gaming area, or on the upper floor, which is home to stores, the well-regarded BRIO Tuscan Grill, and the Event Center.
Crowds are smallest early in the day on Mondays through Wednesdays. From Thursdays on, things pick up considerably. Friday and Saturday nights are packed. Periodically at all times, computers flash the day’s winnings. Within 10 minutes in late morning during a recent visit, the day’s payout leaped $62,000, from $790,000 to $852,000. By 12:30 p.m., the payout was just over $1 million. Payout for the year was $180 million, the readout said.[quote float=”right”]Everyone leaning around the table is having fun, at least while they’re winning.[/quote] Harrah’s Cherokee has a dizzying assortment of colorful, whirling slot machines, grouped in clusters, most with fanciful names like Secrets of Stonehenge, Southern Belle, and American Original. It has games based on movies like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, as well as many based on popular games such as Monopoly and Wheel of Fortune. Other games feature the likenesses of Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson. Most slot machines accept cash, from $5 bills to $100 bills, and allow players to add ways to win to their spins, increasing the payout but costing more if they lose.
Live table games with dealers have their own minimum and maximum bets, posted on the table, such as a $50 minimum and $5,000 maximum. Minimum bets rise as the week progresses. If you don’t know how to play a game, the dealer will explain it (he or she may also recommend you go to a lower limit table). Craps is a hugely social game that tends to elicit the biggest cheers and groans on the floor. Playing against the house, players bet on each other’s rolls. The game moves quickly. Everyone leaning around the table is having fun, at least while they’re winning.
Wander around and you’ll find a live game to your liking. There’s blackjack, roulette, three-card poker and a card game called “Let It Ride.” Le Fu Men, a red-lacquered Asian-themed table room with live dealers, gives players a taste of exotic gaming. Adorned with traditional wall screens and a striking moon gate entry design, the room has its own bar and cashier, as well as baccarat and blackjack. It also has some of the old video table games that people still love.
There’s a room for higher-limit slots and games. The table game limits might start out lower in the week and build as time progresses to the weekend, when $200 minimums are common. There’s an even higher-stakes room in back of the high-limits area, staffed when the casino has a group of high rollers coming in. Back there, there are only two tables. It’s much quieter.
When you’re done with a game, you cash out and receive player vouchers that can be redeemed for money or used to play other games. Harrah’s rewards its guests for playing, dining, and shopping at the resort. Guests who sign up for a Total Rewards card at one of the four reward centers receive credits toward free rooms, meals, and show tickets. Everyone starts at Gold Total Rewards level. Based on their play and wagering, they move up to Platinum, Diamond, and Seven Stars levels. Reward credits expire after a calendar year and can be used at any Caesars’ property.
Because the casino is so large, it’s easy to lose track of where certain games are. To make them easier to find, the resort has installed touch-screen directories that locate games by name, type, location, size of bet and other criteria. The interactive maps will also help people remember where in the two large parking decks they parked, as well as tell them about upcoming shows at the Event Center.
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