Even with much of America opened up again in the vaccination stages of the coronavirus pandemic, I don’t quite know if “normal” has returned. That was certainly still my feeling in my recent visit to the MotorCity Casino Hotel in downtown Detroit.
Capacity restrictions at Michigan casinos are gone. So is a mask requirement, as of late June, for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Despite those steps toward what we’re used to, though, something still felt a little out-of-sorts about my one-night stay at the Grand River Avenue property. It was nothing the casino property did.
In fact, the same small, invisible cloud lingered over small parts of my visits to the MGM Grand Detroit and Greektown Casino-Hotel as well. Being open for business and being cranked up to 100% energy don’t look one and the same. I think we all are in that stage of learning to walk again from an entertainment standpoint before we can run.
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.
MotorCity Casino ambience
I arrived for my brief MotorCity Casino Hotel stay just past 7 p.m. on a Tuesday. The first sign that things were yet in this still-recovering stage was the lack of valet parking. Not that I would have used it, as the main covered public parking lot — where there were plenty of open spaces — was directly connected to the facility, but it was still something one notices.
The real sign was getting my room key and walking into my default-level suite, where the literature explaining the amenities still closed stretched onto a second page.
Beyond the valet parking, the casino’s Iridescence Restaurant, Assembly Line Buffet and D. Tour Spa were all still closed, as was the Sound Board theater. Lastly, the Amnesia nightclub atop the hotel tower had yet to reopen.
My clean, spacious room had a couple of extra reminders that it had been prepared to a pandemic-level standard. The walk-in shower was spacious, the king-size bed just springy enough. The carpet showed signs of perhaps being a little worn, but only when I looked after having dropped my room key on the floor and bent down to pick it up.
Food and beverage scene
A running theme for properties that are opened up but not at full throttle will be a rotating list available food items and restaurants that will be partially open, depending on the day.
On my Tuesday stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel, the primary late-dinner food options included a Little Caesars pizza station and the Grand River Deli and Burgers to-go smorgasbord in the off-casino food court.
The service itself was quick, and my chicken Caesar salad and mac and cheese combo (don’t judge the pairing, it had been a long day!) was tasty and moderately priced with a drink at below $20. Both locations were open through the late evening (hours may vary).
All food service employees were masked, and approximately half of patrons in the food court area were masked on this evening. The only “breach of protocol,” as it were, came from the technology. The kiosks designed for socially distanced and speedy ordering malfunctioned multiple times when I attempted to assign the charge to my room, and I had to find a third kiosk before I could even pay with my credit card instead.
Before my departure the following Wednesday morning, I went back down to the food court for a breakfast of an omelette and crispy hash browns at The Lodge, which had opened at 6 a.m. Again, prompt and accurate service greeted me, and I was one of the few customers dining on a mid-week morning.
MotorCity Casino floor
In terms of dining and amenities, most locales are doing what they can to get by in this initial ramp-up period. But the casino floor is where a physical location still needs to shine.
Thankfully for MotorCity Casino, the machines numbering in the literal thousands over two floors more than met the moment on this occasion. On a thorough walk through the two-floor setup shortly before 10 p.m., the casino was around 30 to 40% occupied in terms of filled machines.
Far and away, the Ultimate Fire Link and Buffalo Gold slots drew the most in-person attention, with each of those tech-heavy slots seeing all their half-dozen or more locations filled. Proper plastic partitions were still in place between those tight-knit quarters, but the layout of the casino floor remained spacious (pictures of the casino floor itself were frowned upon).
Like, really spacious. If I can adopt the perception-is-reality cliché for a moment, the MotorCity Casino layout had me feeling like it was the most expansive of the three in-city properties. That’s both a compliment and a frustration, as I admittedly got turned around multiple times when trying to find the sportsbook, or the cashier, or even a section of games I wanted to revisit as I made my observations.
So in one sense, job well done. In another, the floor can use more signage.
That said, once you found where you were going, types of casino and table games were grouped together smartly. The most action on the table front (once I found them) were at the Mini Baccarat and Craps tables. The high-limit room was nearly empty, and an offshoot poker room had six tables featuring action out of an approximate 10 that were available.
Through the first six months of Michigan online sports betting, FanDuel Sportsbook has grabbed the lead in the handle race. The retail showdowns between FanDuel, BetMGM and Barstool sportsbooks, however, are bunched.
What FanDuel Sportsbook offers at MotorCity Casino is a worthy entry in the fray, though. About two of every three chairs in the main viewing area had patrons glued into an Eastern Conference Finals NBA playoff game and laughing at Charles Barkley’s latest quips.
In addition, eight baseball games were running simultaneously in the main viewing area. The two-floor setup permeates the sportsbook, too, but the upper level was mostly vacant during my stay. Additionally, a bank of kiosks for placing physical bets went mostly unused in an age where mobile betting takes precedence.
MotorCity Casino felt like a venue still getting back on its feet through these hopefully latter stages of the pandemic. Staff and other virus protocol limitations neutered some of the available options to enjoy my evening, but the folks who were working on property were cordial and efficient.
Pockets of the hotel, too, experienced various levels of bustle. The room straight across the hall from me, for example, contained at least half a dozen voices loudly enjoying themselves past 1 a.m. It was just on the border of keeping me from hitting the hay, but in an odd way, it was a reminder that portions of our everyday diversions are alive again.
Particularly at its roughly $150 price point on the night I stayed, Motor City brings enough value to overcome some of those missing features even in an understandably lean-feature time. As the industry continues to unfurl its feathers again in the coming months, you’re likely to see that value and come running.