In the Michigan online casino world, BetMGM is proving to be the early king of mobile gaming. In the physical casino space, MGM Grand Detroit has long been the granddaddy of amenity and opportunity.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has turned that brick-and-mortar existence on its head for a while, and only in the summer of 2021 have MGM Grand and the two other downtown Detroit casinos ramped up their resorts again.
So, in a world of available vaccines, how does MGM Grand Detroit stand out amongst the crowd? Or does it at all? I visited the property in late June for a day and night — as part of my three-day blitz among here, the MotorCity Casino Hotel and the Greektown Casino-Hotel — to have a look for myself.
Editor’s note: In a swiftly evolving COVID-19 recovery environment, hotel services and features are subject to change. This report reflects available amenities, hours and price ranges at the time of the author’s visit.
MGM Grand Detroit ambience
I pulled into the casino space at 1777 3rd Ave. just before noon on a Wednesday. Unlike the other two properties in town, MGM Grand Detroit was offering a limited valet parking service for hotel guests and VIP members. All the same, I wanted to check out the self-parking structure used by the majority of attendees.
I perhaps should have dropped off my luggage first, as it was a bit of a haul dragging my bags the equivalent of a couple of blocks all the way through the main casino floor. But such a layout won’t be of much concern for most casino-goers, as one can hop off the west elevator and end up at the far end of the casino floor in mere minutes.
Once I reached the front desk, a regal yet minimalist setting greeted me as I receive my room key. A security guard was stationed at the entrance to the hallway leading to hotel elevators.
Inside the standard room were what you would expect from an upscale property — modern but not overly showy furnishings; a comfortable bed and television setup; and a double-sink bathroom arrangement with a double-head walk-in shower.
Fitness center, pool and spa
One area where MGM Grand Detroit clearly sets itself apart from its downtown competition is in available amenities. The resort is the only one in town with a proper fitness center, pool and spa setup.
Even though the area is only open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., which can feel a little bit outside the regular strike zone of workout hours, the capabilities are notable. The fitness center, though in somewhat tight quarters, was more robust than I was expecting. Two full racks of free weights were available, along with a multi-use station for lats and triceps exercises.
Several medicine balls and workout mats were in the corner. Around 10 leg and arm curls and extension machines sprinkled the center of the room. Along the sides were four operating treadmills, three stair climbers or standing bikes and two spin bikes. All the cardio machines were pre-packed with unopened water bottles and individually wrapped towels; COVID measure or not, it was a nice touch.
Nearby was the entrance to both the pool and spa center. Massages and treatments were available during open hours, but appointments were required and customers needed to be masked for their visit. In the men’s locker room, I was able to stash my things in a wooden-finish locker guarded by a personally set four-digit key code.
Once inside the pool area, relaxation did indeed take over, with light background music on a loop beckoning me toward seven full-length round chairs and four other recliner chairs to help me unwind. The infinity edge saltwater pool was cool, but refreshing.
I nearly had all these areas to myself in the middle of the afternoon if I wanted. The features, for me, anyway, helped make the property feel next-level.
Food and beverage scene
Much like any entertainment property reopening as the latter stages of the pandemic linger, MGM Grand Detroit is phasing in its dining options on a rotational basis.
On the Wednesday I was on property, options were limited to the upscale D.PRIME Steakhouse, which was around two-thirds full at 5:30 p.m.; The Roasted Bean, a coffee and pastry counter that was also a limited breakfast source in the mornings; and the Breeze food court.
The last of those items had three restaurants in operation at different points in the day or week. The widest-ranging in terms of times was the National Coney Island station (open from 11 a.m.-3 a.m., but I resisted the Coney Dog temptation). The Detroit Wing Company is open each evening from 6 p.m.-1 a.m., and the Red Sauce express pizza outlet is available Wednesdays through Sundays from 7 p.m.-2 a.m.
Much to my chagrin, the TAP at MGM Grand Detroit sports bar was not open on Wednesdays or Thursdays at the time of my visit. So there was no on-site meal enjoyment of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final or the clinching Game 6 of the NBA’s Western Conference Finals for the Phoenix Suns. Open hours are 4-11 p.m. the other five days of the week.
In other food-based closures, D.PRIME is unavailable on Mondays and Tuesdays; food inside the Topgolf Swing Suite is unavailable, as that entire amenity is currently on hiatus; and the Palette Dining Studio buffet is also closed as a coronavirus measure.
As such, the food court lines were too long for me to indulge in anything other than a breakfast sandwich, a hot chocolate and a morning dessert cookie on my way out of the property at The Roasted Bean. Even when I wrapped my evening close to midnight, the wait for the food court line was nearly snaking out into the casino floor.
MGM Grand Casino floor
But said casino floor can handle the volume. Unlike its two downtown Detroit counterparts, MGM Grand Detroit’s main gaming area spans just one level. That setup doesn’t deter from its ability to sport a whopping 2,800 machines across a property that is only marginally confusing to navigate.
The majority of my time in the casino was spent in the early evening on my Wednesday stay. A pleasant vibe guided me along my walking tour, with an eclectic but intriguing musical mix piping in over the speakers. In a 25-minute span I heard a big band-style piece, classic rock, current top-40 style music and a hip-hop song.
I would have expected a steady bustle in the leadup to a holiday weekend. In pockets where there were popular machines, slightly more than every other seat was taken. The hottest slot on the entire property was 5 Treasures, where all 12 stations were occupied and multiple others were hovering nearby, waiting for an open seat.
The live table-game scene was consistent, too. A pair of baccarat tables were running — I lurked for about 10 minutes and still don’t have as good a handle on that game as I probably should — along with four craps tables and a dozen or so spots for varieties of blackjack.
The surprising star, to me, given the time and world circumstances, was the poker room. I first noticed it on my walk across the property with my luggage midday, where even in that atypical a good half-dozen tables were in use. By 5:30 p.m., 11 tables were fully in play (all with dividers between seats, I might add). Even close to midnight, I couldn’t help but sneak one more view at the occupancy of the room, and we were still looking at around eight tables in use.
The online poker scene in Michigan is a bit of a roller coaster in its early months, but there was no interruption in flow, at least on this day.
My opinion of the BetMGM Sportsbook product on mobile has always been “fine, but nothing flashy.” And not that flashy is a requirement, but I have always sort of figured that something “extra” would be coming with that device and product.
Oddly, after taking a look at the sportsbook inside MGM Grand Detroit, I think I’m of the persuasion that BetMGM is just fine with … well, fine.
At the casino location, this mostly makes sense, as the sportsbook isn’t all that far away from the TAP sports bar (when the latter is open). Most of the at-the-bar seats inside the sportsbook were filled, as patrons could play video poker while placing sports bets and having drinks.
Two featured games at any moment were featured on giant screens, and five other games were within eye’s view on another set of tables near the back wall of the sportsbook area.
A few spare kiosks were available to the left of the sportsbook but went mostly unused. However, on my last rounds near midnight, the sportsbook was still more than half full.
Again, though, the proliferation of mobile gaming is as such that the physical sportsbook space is more about experiences with others and side amenities than it needs to be about bet transactions, anyway.
I’m not so sure there is any one thing that the MGM Grand Detroit does miles better than either Greektown Casino-Hotel or the MotorCity Casino Hotel. All three facilities provide pleasant entertainment experiences.
But the volume and capability of most guests to have what feel like individualized experiences when they visit the MGM Grand help make the property stand out. Quantity and variety (plus a little bit of uniqueness or exclusivity) go a long way in a crowded market, even at a slightly elevated price point of $200, whether a property is still in coronavirus recovery mode or not.
And the MGM Grand Detroit looks well positioned for that full normalization, whenever it returns.