For as long as people have been on the planet, they’ve loved gambling.
The first six-sided dice dates from before 3000 BC. Lotto and dominoes were common in China in the 10th century. And the Ridotto, the first known casino, began operating in 1638 in Venice, Italy.
That said, casinos are a popular recreation option and are a big draw for groups and travelers interested in gaming. From coast to coast, casinos offer slot machines, blackjack and roulette, but are often like cities within themselves, featuring shopping, spas and restaurants on-site. Step outside and a plethora of other activities await, from beaches, golf and other outdoor recreation to world-class shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Here are some destinations known for their casinos and the other activities that make visiting like hitting the jackpot.
For gaming, Vegas is the granddaddy of them all, the first place in the country to open casinos and home of “The Strip,” a four-mile stretch of road lined with themed hotels that feature elaborate displays, among them the Eiffel Tower, the canals of Venice and an Egyptian pyramid. So-called Sin City is a 24-hour, nonstop gaming and nightlife hub famous around the world. From games to entertainment and world-class dining and shopping, Las Vegas has it all.
Sports fans will want to check out the UFC and prizefights, rodeo events and annual NASCAR triple headers. Las Vegas is unparalleled when it comes to entertainment, from Cirque du Soleil to residencies from music greats — this year, Aerosmith, Lady Gaga and Smokey Robinson are among the greats taking the stage. The LINQ Promenade is an outdoor dining, shopping and entertainment complex with the world’s tallest observation wheel, the High Roller.
The Viva Vision canopy runs an hourly light and sound show and features two zip lines. Stratosphere Casino features several hair-raising amusement park rides, and the Big Apple Coaster zips through the New York-New York Casino. Car lovers will love Dream Racing and SpeedVegas, racetracks that feature luxury cars like Porsche and Lamborghini, and the Richard Petty Driving Experience, with NASCAR vehicles. Get a bird’s-eye view on a helicopter tour, or stay grounded on a Venetian gondola ride.
Connecticut features two giant casino resorts — the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun — which also sweeten the pot with dining, golf, spas, live entertainment and luxe accommodations.
Within Foxwoods, there are plenty of ways to entertain groups when table games and slots are no dice. Pequot hiking trails make a nice outdoor experience, leading to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, the largest Native American museum in the U.S. Other on-site activities include Thrill Tower and the High Flyers zip line, vintage arcade games at the Tree House arcade and a luxury bowling lane. And guests love to stop at the Sugar Factory, a mind-blowing old-school candy shop.
At Mohegan Sun, the sports arena and multiple venues offering nightly entertainment are a good bet. Among the wide variety of performers are comedy and musical acts, DJs and the New England Black Wolves lacrosse team. The Mohegan Sun golf course offers golf clinics and was rated one of the state’s top-10 courses. At the Mandara Spa, guests can relax in sumptuous luxury while enjoying massages, wraps, facials and scrubs in the 16,000-square-foot space.
Beyond the casinos, in the nearby town of Mystic, visitors will want to check out Mystic Seaport, home to the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last wooden whaleship.
Mississippi Gulf Coast
There are 12 casinos across the Gulf Coast near Biloxi, Mississippi, most overlooking the bay. Guests will be on a roll at any resort, where gaming options range from penny slots and table games to poker and high-limit salons. The resorts feature headliner entertainers, pool and bar areas, shopping, luxurious spas and dining. You can bet that one of the dozen will be a good fit — from the Hard Rock to Harrah’s, the Gulf Coast’s gaming scene is thriving.
Beyond the casinos, this coastal destination features 13 regional golf courses on a variety of landscapes.
“You can play 18 holes on the beach, on a course in the bayou and in a pine forest,” said Anna Roy, public relations manager for Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. “They’re a 30-minute drive max away from each other, and they’re open year-round, so it’s possible to hit several courses in one day.”
Beachgoers will want to take advantage of kayaking, boat, steamboat and schooner tours such as the Biloxi Shrimping Trip, where shrimpers drag nets aboard the boat and talk to passengers about things they have caught. The Gulf Island National Seashore is home to pristine, clear water and untouched islands. Fishing tours are popular, as are tours to the barrier islands. Biloxi was once a major seafood producer, and its commercial history is commemorated at the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. The area’s dining scene is also top-notch, from seafood shacks pulling straight from the harbor to farm-to table fine dining.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Founded in the 1800s as a health resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey, is known for having inspired the Monopoly board game and as the home of the Miss America competition. Most recently, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino opened after $500 million dollars in renovations that included a spa/salon, a fitness center and live nightly music. The Ocean Casino Resort has a luxury spa and dining and the country’s largest Topgolf Swing Suite.
The remaining seven resorts are thematic — Tropicana is based on Old Havana, Caesars is Roman Empire-themed and Borgata resembles Tuscany, for example. Atlantic City is known as the “Entertainment Capital of the Jersey Shore” and features top acts and sporting events in venues large and small.
Beyond casino resorts, groups can go for broke at the Tanger Outlet Stores, with dozens of shops from a wide range of brands including the upscale Michael Kors and everyday-wear chain The Gap. Atlantic City’s Boardwalk is famous as a place to stroll and shop, dine and visit attractions like Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Steel Pier, an iconic local landmark, offers restaurants; rides; games; helicopter rides; The Wheel, a 227-foot-tall Ferris wheel; and a custom-made carousel hand-painted with historical scenes. The Abescon Lighthouse is the state’s tallest at 171 feet; a 228-step climb rewards visitors with unparalleled views of the Jersey Shore.
Motor City is home to many attractions, and casino gaming is just one of them. The city features three casinos: the Greektown Casino-Hotel, with table games, slots and live poker; the car-themed MotorCity Casino Hotel, with a 24-hour casino, restaurants, a spa, live entertainment and a fitness center; and the MGM Grand, with all the amenities, plus a Top Golf Suite.
In Detroit, entertainment options abound for groups interested in cultural attractions. The city’s rich history offers museums like the Detroit Institute of Arts, known for Diego Rivera’s famously controversial murals; the Motown Museum in the record label’s former studio; and for car fans, the Henry Ford Museum and Plant Tour. The Historic Fox Theater has hosted some of the biggest names in showbiz; the Fisher hosts Broadway-bound musicals; and the Detroit Opera House is home to the Michigan Opera Theater, among other performances.
Sports fans will have no problem cheering on the home teams: Tigers baseball, Lions football, Red Wings hockey and Pistons basketball. Live music is practically a religion, and fans will find a range of venues, from big name acts at Ford Field to outdoor performances like the Detroit Jazz Festival at Hart Park.
Foodies will be right at home in Detroit. In Hamtramck, where dive bars are the norm, the craft cocktail, brewery, urban winery and distillery movements have taken hold. Check out speakeasies like Sugar House for unique cocktails. The city is home to a handful of breweries like the Liberty Street Brewing Co. and distilleries like the Detroit City Distillery, in a former slaughterhouse in the popular Eastern Market.