Another in a series of New England getaways on public transportation.
LEDYARD — While Massachusetts dithers over where to allow casinos, how big they can be, and which moguls will build them, Foxwoods, the first tribal casino in Connecticut, turned 20 this year. Many of the players at Foxwoods and neighboring Mohegan Sun are daytrippers from Boston and New York — each with a favorite casino, a favorite room, and a favorite game or even favorite slot machine. Most have strategies to try to return home with more money than they arrived with. After two decades of wondering what the fuss was all about, we hopped a bus to Foxwoods to try our luck.
Greyhound operates three buses a day (7:15 and 11:15 a.m., and 5:45 p.m.) from South Station to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, with an extra post-midnight bus on weekends. These are not dedicated casino buses — they continue along the Connecticut coast en route to New York. Allowing for a stop at Providence, the trip is scheduled for two hours and 20 minutes. Greyhound advises arriving an hour early, which, on a quiet weekday, was a bit excessive. But it did give us a chance to get tips from some of the gaming regulars.
We were feeling lucky even before we boarded, since simply buying a ticket earned us each a coupon for a free buffet meal and a voucher for $15 — mad money that we would pump into the slot machines. Alas, our luck ran out before we ever got there: We had been on the road less than a half-hour when the driver discovered a mechanical problem. The bus limped into Providence where we waited 90 minutes for a replacement. At least the second bus — with padded leather seats and plenty of leg room — was a big improvement over the hard, narrow seats and skimpy leg room of the first.
Once we finally arrived, we were assured that we could switch to a later return bus. There are three direct returns a day, four on weekends, and other options if you change buses, usually in Worcester. Fellow passengers had warned us that the 6:25 p.m. back to Boston was usually late getting to Foxwoods — sometimes by as much as an hour. We were sort of lucky: It was only about 30 minutes late. As a morning passenger had predicted, there was more crying than bragging on the return trip.
A Foxwoods staff member meets the bus to pass out buffet vouchers and load the $15 gaming credit onto each traveler’s Foxwoods Rewards card (rather like a debit card for gambling). First-timers can get their cards at Rewards counters throughout the main lobby of the casino. You must show a picture ID, provide your Social Security number, phone number, e-mail, and mailing address. Coat checkrooms are handy to stow your extra stuff so you can wander around unencumbered.
WHAT TO DO
One of our fellow passengers had told us that it may sound cheap, but playing the penny slots can be fun. It’s true that $15 can last an hour or more if you play the 1 cent, 5 cent, 25 cent, and 50 cent machines — and plow your meager winnings back in. (We more or less broke even.) Of course, there’s no rule that says you can’t wager your own money and indulge in higher-minimum slot machines, bingo, keno, or table games such as blackjack, baccarat, or pai gow that actually require some skill. If your winnings are burning a hole in your pocket, a modest shopping concourse tempts with Native American artifacts, men’s and women’s clothing and athletic gear, shoes, purses, and jewelry. If you want to see some sure winners, check out Victory, a historic exhibition celebrating Boston sports (through Feb. 24 Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri-Sat 11-10, adults $15, age 55 and up $12, children 3-11 $10).
The complex, by the way, permits smoking, although there is a nonsmoking gaming room. For a literal breath of fresh air, a 1.9-mile trail leads through the woods to the Mashantucket Museum & Research Center (Wed-Sat 9 a.m.-5 p.m., adults $15, 55 and up $13, 6-15 $10) where exhibits detail the natural history of the area as well as the history and culture of the nation that owns the casino. There is also a shuttle bus between the casino and the museum.
You should plan on a leisurely meal at the Festival Buffet (an almost $20 value). We’ve had some grim experiences with buffets that feed large numbers of people. But we were pleasantly surprised by the efficiency, nice presentation, and variety of offerings (barbecue, Italian, Asian, seafood, American classics, a plethora of desserts).
Tickets cost $27 each. If we had caught the gambling bug, we would probably go again. But we remained immune and one trip satisfied our curiosity. Other daytrippers might have better luck, but in our case the difficulties and discomforts of the journey outweighed the fun and relaxation of a day at the casino.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at email@example.com.