Where can you put your money down? Try reservations and riverboats Gambling holidays grow in popularity

May 23, 1993|By Randy Mink | Randy Mink,Copley News Service

From the neon canyons of Las Vegas to the sandy shores of New Jersey, more and more vacationers are taking a chance on gambling holidays.

The U.S. gaming industry has seen explosive growth over the past decade and appears to be an odds-on favorite to lead

tourism and entertainment development into the 21st century.

Despite recessionary times, gambling has been growing 10 percent annually, and the rate is even more phenomenal at Indian-sponsored casinos around the country.

In a recent survey of motor-coach tour operators, the American Bus Association found gambling meccas among the hottest group-tour destinations.

A 1988 federal law opened the door for more Indian-reservation casinos, and many revenue-seeking states and municipalities have legalized casino gambling.

Riverboat gambling has brought tourism dollars streaming into Illinois and Iowa in the past few years. St. Louis will see floating casinos this year, thanks to Missouri voters' hearty approval of a gambling referendum last November.

Nancy Milton, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, said, "I'm excited -- it will give us a whole new dimension."

In Mississippi, several counties bordering the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast have welcomed waterborne casinos. New Orleans soon will have riverboat gambling and a single land-based casino.

To the west, old mining towns in Colorado and South Dakota have converted quaint storefronts into gaming halls.

Here's an overview of places where you can strike it rich:

Nevada

Many Nevada towns offer gaming, but most visitors looking for glitz, glamour and easy money make a beeline to Las Vegas, Reno and Laughlin.

Las Vegas, synonymous with grown-up fun and fantasy, has always been called an adult Disneyland. But in recent years, the city has been evolving into a destination resort for the whole family.

Circus Circus Hotel and Casino, known for its midway games and circus acts under the big top, in August plans to unveil Grand Slam Canyon, a Grand Canyon-themed park with water and thrill rides capped by a pink dome.

Under construction in Las Vegas is the $1 billion MGM Grand Hotel and Theme Park, which will have a Wizard of Oz theme. The 5,014-room MGM will be the largest hotel in the world when completed in early 1994.

Also in the works are Mirage Resorts' Treasure Island, a 3,000-room hotel with a Caribbean theme, and Circus Circus' Luxor, a 30-story Egyptian-style pyramid.

The upstart town of Laughlin, tucked in the southern tip of Nevada where the state meets Arizona and California, is another success story. Before 1980, it was little more than a couple of small casinos and bait shops catering to fishermen on the Colorado River. Today, Laughlin, 96 miles south of Las Vegas, attracts a loyal clientele, mostly from Arizona and California, with 10 casino hotels, some of which are undergoing major expansions.

Because of the river location, Laughlin hotels offer water shuttles that run day and night.

The most distinctive property is Circus Circus Enterprises' Colorado Belle Hotel and Casino, a replica of a Mississippi

riverboat, with 206 guest rooms in the boat and 1,082 in an adjacent tower. Harrah's, Hilton, Ramada and Best Western also are represented.

Reno, the "Biggest Little City in the World," sizzles with Las Vegas-style electricity in a greener setting, offering 40 world-class casinos, 24-hour excitement and headliners from Rich Little to Ray Charles.

Situated at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Reno is only 45 minutes from the alpine splendor of Lake Tahoe, a year-round recreation area with skiing, fishing, boating, hiking and horseback riding, not to mention gambling.

For information, contact the Nevada Commission on Tourism, Capitol Complex, Carson City, Nev. 89710; (800) 638-2328.

Colorado

The ring of slot machines resounds from the doorways of three once-sleepy mountain mining towns -- Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek. All three were changed forever after limited-stakes gambling was introduced in 1991.

Central City, a National Historic District 34 miles west of Denver, boasts some of the best-preserved Victorian architecture in the nation and has often been used in western movies. The same charm accents Black Hawk, just a mile down the hill.

Cripple Creek, 45 miles west of Colorado Springs, was the site of the largest gold strike in American history and also is a National Historic District.

Gambling establishments in these towns run from simple

storefront halls to the more formal environs of Central City's landmark Teller House, once an elegant Victorian hotel that played host to such luminaries as President Ulysses S. Grant. The Central City Opera House, built in 1878, offers outstanding opera each summer.

For information, contact the Colorado Tourism Board, 1625 Broadway, Denver, Colo. 80202; (800) 433-2656.

South Dakota

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