Looking for glitz, glamor, and piles of pocket change, more and more Americans are planning vacations with hopes of striking it rich

Casino craze: looking for glitz, glamor, and piles of pocket change, more and more Americans are planning vacations with hopes of striking it rich

Alice Ross

SOME PEOPLE BRAKE FOR GARAGE SALES. I’M PROgrammed to detect any sign that says “casino.” Strictly a slots player, I love the rapid-fire dinging when three matching symbols appear, and my heart beats a little faster at the clatter of coins cascading into the tray of a slot machine–specially when it’s the one I’m playing and not the one next to me.

I’m not the only one who enjoys casino gambling; according to the Travel Industry Association (TIA), it’s a common activity on many trips and one that is growing in popularity. TIA says that in 2002 eight percent of all U.S. travel trips included gambling, a figure that tied with nightlife/dancing. And casino gambling isn’t limited to a specific segment of the population–it attracts males and females of all ages. Some parents even tote children along to destinations known for gambling, especially where there are family activities. Whether the allure is the possibility of striking it rich or just the exciting atmosphere, casinos seem to be here to stay, and new ones are being built all the time.

Gambling has been around in one form or other since ancient times, and in this country has passed in and out of legality. It’s been in for some time now, and casinos can be found from north to south, east to west, on land and sea.

Nevada became the first state to legalize casinos. Las Vegas, with more than 50 casinos, is truly America’s gambling mecca. Famous casino hotels along “The Strip” include the Mirage, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Tropicana, Paris Hotel and Casino, and many more. The excitement sometimes begins outside the hotels, where crowds gather to enjoy spectacular free shows such as the Bellagio’s 900-foot-long dancing water fountains and the Mirage’s erupting volcano.

Additional hotels and casinos are located in downtown Vegas, including the 50-plus-year-old landmark, the Golden Nugget, home to the world’s largest single gold nugget. It stands tall beneath the razzle-dazzle of the Fremont Street Experience, a four-block-long, 90-foot-high electronic canopy of sight-and-sound shows.

Visitors to Vegas often take a side trip to another Nevada resort destination, Laughlin. Although it’s small, with 11 casinos, Laughlin attracts around five million visitors annually. A bridge across the Colorado River links Laughlin with Bullhead City, Arizona.

Native Americans operate casinos in many Arizona towns, including Scottsdale, Prescott, and Tucson. I fondly recall Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde, where I walked away from a $1 slot machine $900 dollars richer than when I started. The beautiful casino has more than 560 slots, eight table games, a hotel and convention center, bowling center, eight restaurants, even a licensed child care facility.

In the area of New Mexico’s stunning Sangre de Cristo Mountains are a number of casinos, including the totally smoke-free Taos Mountain Casino at historic Tans Pueblo. About a half hour away, more than 700 slots and table games await at Ohkay Casino Resort at San Juan Pueblo.

Casinos are one of the growth industries in California with dozens around the state. A favorite with visitors and locals is Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne. Built in 2001 and still growing, it soon will boast 940 slots and 24 table games, plus a theater-style entertainment venue, restaurants, and more.

With such legendary names as Wild Bill Hickock in its past, it’s hard to envision Deadwood without gambling, but for many years, playing for money in the South Dakota town was illegal. After facing economic difficulties, Deadwood in the 1990s became the nation’s third site to allow legalized gambling. Casino revenues have enabled the preservation and restoration of the city’s historic gaming halls, so Deadwood is alive and well once again, with more than 85 casinos inviting visitors to try their luck.

In Colorado, Cripple Creek, dubbed the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp,” boasts a Victorian charmer, the 1896 Imperial Casino Hotel, while a soaring, stained-glass, barrel-vaulted ceiling highlights the Double Eagle Hotel Casino. Other old mining towns, Central City and Black Hawk, also offer casino action.

The Midwest has a fair share of casinos on riverboats, some of which are permanently docked while others actually go out on cruises during warm weather months. Laws regarding gambling boats change occasionally–the Casino Queen in East St. Louis, Illinois, had offered cruises but now is stationary–so it’s wise to double check. Iowa cruise boats venturing out in warm weather include the Mississippi Belle II in Clinton, the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, and the Isle of Capri Casino in Marquette. In Indiana, the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City and Harrah’s East Chicago offered cruises but now are stationary. Missouri’s offerings include Harrah’s St. Louis Casino and Hotel, Ameristar casino hotels in St. Charles and Kansas City, and President Casino in downtown St. Louis.

In Louisiana, Baton Rouge has a couple of riverboat casinos, and several are in New Orleans. Bally’s Casino Lakeshore Resort is docked on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Harrah’s New Orleans Casino is the only land-based one in the state, a huge affair right in the downtown area.

Given the current heightened security everywhere, casino visitors should be prepared to present identification if requested, and when parking, open the car’s trunk. And remember, like anything else, casino gambling can undergo changes. Not only do casinos differ in the types of games offered and hours of play (some are open 24/7), but rules and laws–like betting limits and legal gambling ages–vary from state to state.

Cleaner hands for slot machine patrons appears to be the wave of the future as some casinos are eliminating paying off in coins in favor of paper. The slips can be used in other designated machines or redeemed at a window.

Slot machines can range from penny slots all the way up to the $500 slot machines found in Atlantic City’s recently unveiled Borgata. With 2,002 guest rooms and suites and some 125,000 square feet of gaming, the $1-billion resort is the first new hotel casino to open in Atlantic City in 13 years. The Borgata is located on the marina; most of the others are on the historic Boardwalk. The city opened its first casino in 1978 and now has a dozen, making it the East Coast’s answer to Las Vegas.

The exterior of Connecticut’s Foxwoods really lights up the night sky, always reminding me of Oz’s Emerald City. With over 6,700 slot machines, countless table games, bingo, race book, three hotels, 25 food and beverage outlets, and top-notch entertainment, it’s the largest resort casino in the world. Off premises is the tribally owned and operated Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, which spotlights the heritage of American and Canadian Native tribes.

Running a close second in size is Connecticut’s other casino, Mohegan Sun. A recent expansion included Casino of the Sky, topped by the world’s largest, fully functional planetarium dome, a waterfall, and a luxury hotel. In 2001, the Sun paid out Connecticut’s largest slot jackpot in history–a whopping $6,355,858.

Heading southward, Georgia has no land-based casinos but has a gambling cruise ship leaving out of Brunswick, the Emerald Princess Dinner Cruise & Casino. A second one in the works, Millionaires Casino, will depart from Savannah. The cruises will head out (weather permitting) three miles to international waters, where gambling is legal.

Florida features both land-based Native American casinos and gambling cruises. The Seminole Tribe has several casinos, including the Naples area’s Seminole Casino-Immokalee. The tribe’s newest venture is the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.

With all the water surrounding the Sunshine State, gambling boats are a natural. SeaEscape, leaving from Fort Lauderdale, offers entertainment, buffet brunches, and gourmet dinners, plus gaming tables, and slot and video poker machines. SunCruz runs boats from such locations as Hollywood, Jacksonville, and Daytona. The Palm Beach Princess in Riviera Beach is one of the larger ships in South Florida.

On land and on sea, from every direction, casinos are calling to travelers. Their answer is a resounding “yes.” Casinos are here to stay, and that’s something you can bet on.


Casinos mentioned in the accompanying article are listed below, state by state:


* Cliff Castle Casino, (928) 567-7900; www.cliffcastle.com.


* Black Oak Casino, (877) 747-8777; www.blackoakcasino.com.


* Imperial Casino Hotel, (800) 235-2922; www.imperialcasinohotel.com.

* Double Eagle Hotel Casino, (719) 689-5000; www.decasino.com.


* Foxwoods (800) FOXWOODS www.foxwoods.com.

* Mohegan Sun, (800) 226-7711, www.mohegansun.com.


* Seminole Casino-Immokalee Naples, (800) 218-0007.

* Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Tampa, (800) 937-0010.

* SeaEscape, (877) SEA-ESCAPE; www.seaescape.com.

* SunCruz casinos, (954) 929-3880; www.suncruzcasino.com.

* Palm Beach Princess, (800) 841-SHIP; www.pbcasino.com.


* Emerald Princess, (912) 265-3558; www.emeraldprincesscasino.com.

* Millionaires Casino, (912) 236-2274; www.millionairescasino.net.


* Casino Queen, (800) 777-0777, www.casinoqueen.com.


* Blue Chip Casino, (888) 879-7711, www.bluechip-casino.com.

* Harrah’s East Chicago, (800)-HARRAHS; www.harrahs.com/our_casinos/ech.


* Mississippi Belle, (800) 457-9975.

* Ameristar Casino Council Bluff, (712) 328-8888; www.ameristarcasinos.com.

* Isle of Capri Marquette, (800) 496-8238, www.isleofcapricasino.com/marquette.


* Baton Rouge area, (800) LA-ROUGE; www.bracvb.com.

* Ballys Casino Lakeshore Resort, (800) 572-2559; www.ballys.com.

* Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, (800) 427-7247; www.harrahs.com/our_casinos/nor/


* Harrah’s St. Louis Casino & Hotel, (800) HARRAHS; www.harrahs.com/our_ casinos/stl.

* Ameristar Casino Hotel Kansas City, (800)-499-4961; St. Charles, (800) 325-7777; www.ameristarcasinos.com.


* The Bellagio, (702) 693-7111; www.bellagiolasvegas.com.

* Golden Nugget, (702) 385-7111; www.goldennugget.com.

* Mandalay Bay, (877) 632-7800; www.mandalaybay.com.

* The Mirage, (702) 791-7111; www.mirage.com.

* Paris Hotel, (877) 796-2096; www.caesars.com/paris/lasvegas.

* Tropicana, (888) 826-TROP. www.tropicanalv.com.

* An excellent website for all sorts of Las Vegas information is www.vegas.com.

* Laughlin Visitor Information, (800) 4-LAUGHLIN; www.visitlaughlin.com.


* The Borgata, (609) 317-1000; www.theborgata.com.


* Taos Mountain Casino, (888) 946-8267; www.taosmountaincasino.com.

* Ohkay Casino, (877) 829-2865; www.ohkay.com.


* Deadwood Chamber of Commerce, (800) 999-1876; www.deadwood.org.

COPYRIGHT 2004 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group