The personal-finance site Wallet Hub recently ranked all 50 states on their “Gambling-Friendliness”, measured by 12 factors like number of casinos per capita. The findings are part of a larger study of “Most Gambling-Addicted States“.
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To the surprise of quite possibly no one, Nevada ranked first for “gambling-friendliness”. The state tied with South Dakota and Oklahoma for having the most casinos per capita. When I lived in Newport Beach, I used to road trip to the Silver State with a friend, and I loved spotting the first casinos just across the border from California.
And I loved even more seeing the Las Vegas skyline come into view. The casino capital of the world is a playground for grown-ups. If you like over-the-top theatrical glamour, the Strip is the place for you.
My favorite casino resort is the Wynn/Encore. It’s elegant, and the service is outstanding. The spa at Encore is world-class, and I’ve had the best haircuts of my life at its sister salon. And I had one of the best dinners ever at the hotel’s restaurant Sinatra, which honors the legacy of the charismatic crooner.
Other excellent casino resorts on the Strip include:
- Caesars Palace This center-Strip property is the quintessential Vegas casino resort. It boasts an ancient-Rome theme, lots of restaurants, and the Colosseum, a large entertainment theatre where I saw Elton John perform.
- Venetian/Palazzo This IHG property features a Venice theme, complete with a “Grand Canal” where you can ride a gondola. It stands in the spot once occupied by the Sands, the legendary hotel that hosted hundreds of performers, including the Rat Pack. Today its entertainment venues include the Palazzo Theater, where I saw a Sinatra impressionist so good it was possible to believe for brief moments that I was actually hearing Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.
- Cosmopolitan This Marriott property is most unique in that it offers rooms and suites with balconies, a rarity for casino hotels. It also has several good restaurants; my favorite is Beauty & Essex, a semi-secret meld of grit and glam hidden behind a pawn shop.
- Bellagio This MGM property is best known for the Fountains that dance in its recreation of Lake Como. It also has a spectacular Conservatory & Botanical Gardens with seasonally changing displays. The hotel featured prominently in the 2001 remake of Ocean’s 11.
- Aria This MGM property has one of the best spas on the Strip and several good restaurants, including Carbone, where a bartender gave me a stack of branded paper coasters.
- Mandalay Bay This MGM property has an aquatic theme, with several pools and a Shark Reef Aquarium, in which certified SCUBA divers may swim. It also has two hotels-within-a-hotel: Four Seasons and Delano, where I enjoyed a fabulous one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette and a spectacular view through floor-to-ceiling windows.
If you’re in the mood for old-school grit, downtown Vegas is your spot. It’s also much more compact than the Strip, good for walking around from casino to casino. But be prepared: It is not family-friendly.
One iconic spot is El Cortez, an inexpensive hotel with cheap slots and a fabulous cushy “Parlour Bar”, reminiscent of a Prohibition Era speak-easy, where I go once every trip to enjoy a drink or two.
Other popular downtown casino resorts include:
- Golden Nugget, one of the better downtown hotels, frequently featured in programs and movies, like Elvis Presley‘s Viva Las Vegas
- Four Queens, an inexpensive hotel where I saw an impersonator called the “Best Elvis in Las Vegas” by the city’s Review-Journal
- Binion’s, a midscale property boasting a top-storey steakhouse with good food and great views
If you prefer places that are more low-key than Las Vegas, well, most of the world would meet that criterion. But one such city in Nevada is Laughlin, at the Silver State’s southern tip. It’s a little like Atlantic City, with a line of waterfront casino resorts along the Colorado River.
During my most recent cross-country road trip, I stayed at Harrah’s, a Caesars property with lots of restaurants and its own beach. Other riverfront casino resorts include the Aquarius, Tropicana, Edgewater, and Golden Nugget.
Or you could go the opposite direction, to Reno in the northwest. The self-proclaimed “Biggest Little City in the World” has several museums, including the Nevada Museum of Art, and a location close to Lake Tahoe. Popular casino resorts in Reno include: Grand Sierra, Atlantis, Peppermill, and Silver Legacy.
Perhaps more surprising is the fact that South Dakota came in second. At least, it would have surprised me before I drove across the Mount Rushmore State.
There are thousands of casinos in South Dakota, including small rooms with slot machines at virtually every gas station. There are also several tribal casinos in South Dakota, including Fort Randall east of the Missouri River and Rosebud to the west.
During the 1874 gold rush, about 25,000 hopeful miners swarmed the Dakota Territory spot and turned it into the quintessential Wild West.
On August 1, 1876, a former buffalo hunter named Jack McCall lost a lot of money in a saloon poker game with former Yankee spy, fabulist, and professional gambler Wild Bill Hickok. Hickok gave McCall money for breakfast and a warning not to play again until he could afford his losses. McCall took the cash but reportedly felt insulted.
The next day, a drunken McCall returned to the saloon and shot Hickok in the back of the head. Hickok died instantly; McCall was hanged on March 1, 1877. According to legend, Hickok’s poker hand included the two black Aces and Eights, now known as the “Dead Man’s Hand”.
In 1905, South Dakota made gambling illegal, and set Deadwood on the path to becoming a ghost town. The state re-legalized gambling in 1989 in order to rescue the town.
Louisiana ranked third and is home to several dozen casinos. My favorite is Harrah’s New Orleans, a spacious resort with lots of restaurant options and a location in one of the most culturally unique cities in America, with great food, good music, and a French-Southern vibe all its own.
Most of the other casinos in Louisiana are on riverboats. That’s because Pelican State law used to require casinos to be based on Mississippi-worthy vessels — complete with paddle-wheels. Today these relics of a bygone time can be found around the state.
Caesars’ Horseshoe in Bossier City in the northwest comped me a wonderful two-night stay in a spacious room in its 24-storey skyscraper, which boasts seven restaurants. And on my morning walks, I enjoyed stopping by: Boomtown, Diamond Jack’s, and Margaritaville.
West Virginia came in fourth-friendliest overall and tied with Rhode Island, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Delaware for most lottery sales per capita. The Mountain State also has several casinos.
Good luck! and think twice before you buy somebody breakfast.
I fell in love with travel on a trip to Mexico when I was nine years old. Since then, I’ve travelled the globe from Israel to El Salvador. I’ve skied the Swiss Alps and hiked national parks like Acadia, Zion, Shenandoah, and Virgin Islands. I’ve marvelled at masterpieces in the Prado, the Uffizi, the Huntington, and the National Gallery of Art. I’ve stayed in a cabin on a mountaintop in Norway and on a kibbutz along the Sea of Galilee, and been kicked out of the Ritz at the Place Vendôme. I’ve taken cooking classes from New England to the Caribbean, and watched a chef prepare traditional shakshuka in the kitchen of his restaurant in Tel Aviv. I weave historical research and my personal experiences together in writing this blog. I hope you find it helpful. Read more …