Awesome land-based casinos you didn't know existed

We all know about the big boys of casinos, the ones with revenue in the multiple billions collected from the hundreds of thousands of square feet they occupy. These meccas of gaming feature every type of slot, table game, dining option, entertainment venue, and high-rise hotel room one could imagine. They are the envy of the industry and the goal that many regional and smaller properties are trying to become.

harrahs online casino bonus code

But there’s something to be said for the little guy/girl. Just because a casino may not take in $10 billion annually or have 4,000 slots does not mean it’s not worth a visit. In fact, some of the casinos I’ve visited around the country – and world - are quirky, off-the-beaten-path places that might only have a few slot machines or table games, but the experience of being there was memorable.

So, let’s take a look at some of these unsung heroes of the casino industry. To make it on my list, each place had to have gamble, food, and a unique experience. Here are eight that made the cut.

Arabian Nights Theater and Casino

Kissimmee, Florida

Yes, central Florida has theme parks – Disney, Universal, SeaWorld – but if you have a few extra hours to spare, consider a short drive to the Arabian Nights Theater and Casino. Featuring live Thoroughbred horses, the show takes you on a magical flying carpet journey, complete with special effects, singing, dancing, and live animals. The 75-minute show is followed by some slots and table games. Arabian Nights was the first equestrian dinner theater in the nation when it opened in 1981 and remains the only one of its kind.

The casino features 300 of the latest slot machines, open play Texas Hold ‘Em, pai gow, blackjack, roulette, and craps. There’s also a full-service bar and restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Arabian Nights is open seven days a week. Admission to the show is $62.95 for adults; $38.95 children 3-12; and free for kids under three.

Editor's Note: This business is currently closed.

Atomic Trading Post & Casino

Pahrump, Nevada

Located about 60 miles west of Las Vegas, the Atomic Trading Post & Casino advertises itself as “Where the Locals Hang.” And indeed they do. It’s a small joint with 250 slot machines, two blackjack tables, and a sports book. But what makes this casino unique is its history.

unibet pa casino

In the late 1950s, Bernie Schulz operated a service station here, which became famous after he painted a sign above the counter that read, “Bernie’s Bakery – Cakes, Cookies, Liquor & Rebel Ammo Sold Here.” A short time later, he changed the name to Atomic Trading Post & Casino (two dimes would get you a bottle of cold beer).

Schulz was quite the character. He had an affinity for bikini contests, beauty pageants, and anything that would bring people to his desert oasis. On weekends, cowboys and hippies would ride their horses right into the establishment, making it truly a “Reality Sandwich” kind of place.

After Schulz died in 1986, the trading post struggled along until the casino portion was closed in 1991. That lasted all of six years before new owners reopened it in 1997. While much of the original luster is gone, the place still exudes character.

If you decide to make the trip, look for the World’s Largest Rocking Chair out front, which Bhakti Tribakar, a Serbian artist, spent nine months constructing. Bhakti also built a 20-foot beer mug in the parking lot of the Pahrump Napa Valley Cannabis Company down the road. Someone should really tell him that no one can actually smoke it.

Casino Fairgrounds

Multiple Locations

There are few things I enjoy more than a day at the state or county fair. Whether it’s August or February, you can always find a travelling carnival somewhere offering rides, games, deep-fried Oreos, and of course, gambling.

These midway masterpieces proudly display banks of nickel, quarter, and dollar slot machines alongside spinning wheel and spin-to-win games staffed by young ladies who could be your daughters, sisters, or daughters you wish you had. They gleefully take your $20 bill as you eagerly point to your favorite stuffed animal 20 feet away. Yes, there are blackjack and poker tables, too, manned mostly by older gentlemen who never seem to lose.

casinos near joplin

As with most things like this, it’s hard to say exactly how many of these operations are active in the US today, although reliable sources say there are at least a half dozen. A Google search will help you locate one near you.

One word of caution: Even though they look like real casinos and the folks running the games are more than happy to take your money, these are considered independent contractors working under permit at the fairgrounds. Any winnings over $1,200 are subject to IRS reporting requirements, and in some states, gambling on the fairgrounds – even on these machines – is illegal. Do your homework before dropping a dollar.

Excalibur Greater Cleveland Casino

Northfield, Ohio

Ah, the classic American legion hall or VFW post. Cheap beer, cheaper hot dogs, bingo, dart tournaments, and pull tabs – life is good. But then they passed the gambling initiative allowing for full-scale casinos in Ohio, and these old warhouses were never the same.

In 1998, the Post 6633 in Northfield transformed itself into the Excalibur Greater Cleveland Casino. Complete with round tables, suits armor, and low-ceilinged entryways that require you to duck your head, this 24-hour casino features 300 slots, video poker and keno, and a couple of blackjack dealers. There’s a full restaurant and bar that serves up liverwurst and sandwiches along with frosty mugs of Bud.

Just a few minutes down the road is the Old Crow Medicine Show where you can smoke a peace pipe with Sitting Bull and play Keno while admiring the buffalo skin shirts and dream catchters for sale just beyond the one armed bandits. Ah, progress.

I doubt either of these establishments would be confused for Medina Entertainment Center during the Battle of Baker Parking Lot in 1969, but hey, some guys will travel any distance to blow their paychecks chasing Queen.

Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races

Charles Town, West Virginia

When most people think of West Virginia, images of John Denver serenading us about taking him home to a place he’s never been so far arise. Then there are those who recall the infamous Mountain Dew soda commercials featuring a certain banjo-playing puppet named Bob. But did you know that the Mountain State is now a popular destination for gamblers?

Tucked into the northwestern corner of the state, within easy driving distance of Washington DC, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the town of Charles Town has transformed itself into a gambling Mecca. Five casinos – Mardi Gras, Hollywood, Strawberry Hills, Summit, and Horseshoe Casinos – feature every type of slot machine, table game, and live racing one could want. Total annual handling for the five combined exceeds $3 billion.

For my money, the best layout and views are at the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Overlookng the scenic Potomac River Valley, the casino offers live thoroughbred racing and 2,000 of the newest and hottest slot machines, dozens of table games, and a full-service poker room. If that doesn’t wear you down, try the 450-room hotel, several excellent restaurants, and 24/7 live action.

casino pawn shop

You can’t miss the Hollywood Casino’s iconic red neon sign as you travel Interstate 81.

Red Garter #2

Winnemucca, Nevada

OK, so technically this isn’t a casino. However, the Red Garter #2, located on Main Street in the unincorporated town of Winnemucca, Nevada, has gambling machines, drinks, dancing girls, and a colorful history that demands inclusion in any discussion of offbeat casinos.

Originally built in 1944 as a roadside coffee shop known as the Red Reflector, it didn’t take long for management to realize that replacing the standard paper cups with ones that featured scantily clad women helped business exponentially. By the '50s, pinup artwork covered every available inch of wall space, and the place was renamed the Red Garter.

Pinups gave way to burlesque queens in 1962, with management recruiting dancers from as far away as Las Vegas and Reno to perform on stage. The shows were immensely successful, helping to draw celebrities like Liberace and Wayne Newton.

A fire destroyed the original Red Garter in 1977, but owner Shirley Braswell rebuilt it across the street, reopening in 1978. Today, the Red Garter #2 features gambling devices of all kinds and live dancers every weekend. Adjacent to the casino is the Red Garter Motel, which claims to have “the best showrooms view in Nevada.”

Winnemucca, located roughly halfway between Elko and Ely on Interstate 84, is worth a visit anyway just to see the world’s largest rocking chair and cowboy boots, a 1,020 foot long mosaic of America’s national bird (the robin), and the world’s largest DeER antlers. And remember: Everything happens in NevADA!

Red Skoen Shoe Store Casino

Elkader, Iowa

Clarks, Iowa, population 765, might just be the shoe capital of the world. At least that’s what they claim. Four shoe companies are headquartered here, including Red Wing Shoes.

sun palace casino bonus codes

While in Clarks, be sure to stop at the Red Skoen Shoe Store, which bills itself as the “Largest Bootstore in the World” and features every type of boot, shoe, sock, and accessory you can imagine. Oh, and they have a casino.

Yes, nestled in the southeast corner of the store is a small gaming area offering 250 of the latest slots and electronic keno. The casino is open until 1 am every night. Visitors can also stay at the Red Skoen Lodge, which features 36 rooms and efficiencies.

Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino

Salamanca, New York

Situated in the southwestern corner of the state of New York, the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino celebrates the culture and heritage of the Seneca Indian Nation with a unique facility that looks like a wolf den. Seriously.

Casino management spares no details in its description of the building, calling the structure “a spectacular tribute to the Senecas’ ancient hunting heritage” and pointing out the various design elements that reflect that theme. OK, here’s my interpretation: It looks like a wolf den.

Opened in 1994, the resort cost $125 million to build and features 436 well-appointed guest rooms and suites, nearly 400 of the hottest slots in southwestern New York, 18 table games, a poker room, high stakes room, and a full service spa. Several restaurants offer everything from all-you-can-eat buffets to fine dining.

If you plan to visit, don’t use a GPS to find the place. Despite instructions to the contrary, every single time I’ve driven the five hours from Cleveland to Allegany, I put the address in my navigation system and end up in downtown Salamanca. Every. Single. Time. No matter which route I take. It’s as if the spirits of the Seneca are playing a joke on me.

Perhaps I need to make an offering of sweetgrass and sage to the gods of technology so they might favor me with safe passage through the forests of western New York. Or maybe I should just drive east on Route 60 and watch for the wolf den on top of the mountain.

Arabian Nights Theater and Casino

Readers, do you know of any unusual casinos we may have missed? Let us know in the comments below!