Destinations for the Perfect Winter Gambling Getaway
By Sean Chaﬃn
Winter has arrived and the season may bring to mind snow, a nice ﬁreplace, snow skiing, and a steaming cup of hot chocolate. For many, the colder weather also brings to mind a bit of gambling mixed with some gaming fun. There are numerous great options for making that winter vacation special. Here’s a look at a few great destinations, whether you favor winter sports, some fun in the sun, big events, or a bit of adventure.
Looking for a Rocky Mountain high? Or maybe some Rocky Mountain high limits? A trip to Colorado oﬀers plenty of winter wonders. The Centennial State oﬀers the best of both worlds—plenty of snowy fun and some great Old West–style gaming. The state’s gaming action is centered on three former mining towns—Black Hawk, Cripple Creek and Central City. Visitors will ﬁnd a more subdued, quaint gambling experience.
Black Hawk is the state’s biggest gaming town with 13 casinos and serves the Denver market. Those looking for outdoor adventures will also be in luck. All three locations are at 8,500 feet of elevation and higher. Players will ﬁnd plenty of gold rush history as they try to re-create this run of riches on their own. Another option is the “Peak to Peak” scenic and historic byway between the Black Hawk/Central City area and Estes Park. The 55-mile route oﬀers views of the Continental Divide, a ghost town tour, mining relics and brilliant views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker. Looking for some skiing? All three towns oﬀer numerous winter sport opportunities just a short trip away. Colorado can be a gambler’s true winter wonderland.
Gambling, scenery, winter sports and more—the Lake Tahoe/Reno region has it all. Zip through some fresh powder at one of several Lake Tahoe ski resorts by day and then head to one of the area’s numerous gaming destinations at night. Lake Tahoe oﬀers more than a dozen casino properties with Reno hosting another 20 or so.
Beyond the world-class slopes and beautiful views of the pristine, alpine lake and Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tahoe oﬀers plenty of other options. Fifty Fifty Brewing Company serves up plenty of pale ales, IPAs, porters and more. Major entertainment acts also regularly head to the region (why wouldn’t they?). Home to world-class casinos that are refreshingly free of Vegas-style glitz, South Lake Tahoe is also the place to get your game on. Top spots include Bally’s Casino Lake Tahoe (formerly MontBleu), Hard Rock Lake Tahoe and Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. The state-of-the-art casinos oﬀer everything from blackjack and poker to roulette, craps, slots, and so much more.
Reno, aka “The Biggest Little City in the World,” regularly ranks among the best small cities in the country. With numerous casinos, Reno oﬀers plenty of opportunities to hit the tables and slots including favorites like Grand Sierra, Atlantis and Eldorado. Winter activities also abound away from the gaming action, from the Solo and Concerto Festival to the Worldwide Trade Show to the Latin Dance Fest. A trip to the Tahoe/Reno area oﬀers everything one might want for some winter fun.
The nearby town of Virginia City oﬀers something completely diﬀerent on March 12 with the 31st annual Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry. Hint: these aren’t really oysters.
INDIANA – FRENCH LICK RESORT
The French Lick Resort turns up the heat with the property’s Winter Fest, which oﬀers activities throughout the colder months. The 50 Days of Lights oﬀers Christmas-themed events each December. But the fun continues all winter long with other activities as well. Look for whiskey and wine tasting, stable tours, mixology classes and much more. And while the weather may not be perfect to take in 18 holes, the “Afternoon With Lori” sessions are perfect for every golfer. Lori Atsedes is the property’s newest head golf pro and two-time contestant on Golf Channel’s The Big Break series. The former LPGA Tour pro oﬀers visitors two hours of swing tips and golf advice as well as a chance to take in the views from the award-winning Pete Dye Course. “Live Music from the Lobby” also helps bring in the weekend each Friday and Saturday. Book a room for some great times and relaxation.
Who needs those triple-digit summer temperatures in Las Vegas? The winter months can be a perfect time to head to Sin City, with mild desert temperatures in January and February compared to other parts of the country. It also seems every property also has something to oﬀer. The Cosmopolitan oﬀers one cool favorite, with the Boulevard Pool converting to a skating rink during the winter months. The Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden makes for an excellent way to bring a bit of spring to the winter. Sports fans can also experience the speed and hard-hitting action of the Vegas Golden Knights as they work to make the NHL playoﬀs.
Believe or not, a quick ski vacation is also just a short trip from the bright lights of Las Vegas—about an hour’s drive away. The Lee Canyon ski resort is located in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and oﬀers plenty of skiing, sledding, snowboarding and a great place to build a snowman. The Lee Canyon and Mt. Charleston area also oﬀers other outdoor opportunities all year long including hiking, mountain biking, disc golf and much more.
Another must-see destination for nature lovers is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is a short, scenic trip from the Las Vegas Strip. Red Rock Canyon features a one-way 13-mile scenic drive, hiking trails, unique plants, wildlife, geology, cultural resources and much more. In the summertime, the park can be very crowded for folks looking to beat the desert heat, but in winter, the mild climate and less crowds makes for a great day trip. For those looking to beat the Vegas heat in the summer as well, a quick trip to the mountains brings those temperatures down to the 70s and 80s. Winter in Vegas certainly oﬀers more than shopping and gambling.
RUIDOSO, NEW MEXICO
Head to the Land of Enchantment for some winter fun. This small resort town is located in the Sierra Blanca Mountains of southeastern New Mexico. The Inn of the Mountain Gods casino resort is owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache tribe and oﬀers amazing views of the lush Lincoln National Forest complete with a lake, walking trails and golf course. Ski Apache is also owned by the tribe and just a short trip away with plenty of slopes to whet that winter sports appetite.
Those looking for some shopping should head to the village’s famous Midtown for plenty of boutiques, art galleries and more. There are also some great restaurants and unique spots for cocktails including Lost Hiker Brewing Company and Noisy Water Winery in nearby Alto. Outdoor opportunities abound and Ruidoso Downs oﬀers plenty of simulcast betting and hosts the Billy the Kid Casino. Relax and gamble in the mountains for plenty of fun when the temperature drops.
If warmer weather is more your vibe, the Sunshine State oﬀers visitors warmer temps and plenty of gaming options. Snow skiing may not be an option but the mild weather makes a walk on the beach a nice way to warm up. The Miami Comedy Festival headlines the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood in January. Music and seafood fans are also especially in luck during winter with numerous events planned. A few highlights include the South Beach Jazz Festival, Jazz Fest Pompano Beach, and Fort Myers Seafood and Music Festival all set for January. The Naples Winter Wine Festival also allows for some taste testing, plenty of conversation and more.
For some time at the tables or slots, the Hard Rock is always a great option with great dining, entertainment and gambling. Take a dip in the property’s elegant pools for the perfect tropical winter oasis. Hialeah Park Racing and Casino is also located just a half-hour northwest of Miami and oﬀers players plenty of excellent gaming options. And as a regular winner for the region’s loosest slots, Wheel of Fortune and other top games will delight slot fans. Several other area casinos will help visitors ﬁnd some ways to get their minds oﬀ the daily grind.
Those looking for slots and dice mixed with a little snow and ice have numerous options when it comes to some winter travel. Pack that jacket, book the lift tickets, and bring those lucky charms—a great getaway awaits.
Sean Chaﬃn is a freelance writer and senior writer for Casino Player and Strictly Slots magazines. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions or email him at seanchaﬃn@sbcglobal.net for story assignments.