10 Alternatives to the Las Vegas Vacation

By: Julia Layton
Las Vegas Boulevard may be teeming with attractions, but what other cities cater to the world-traveling gambler?
© Cameron Davidson/Corbis

Were there a Mensa of the marketing industry, the Vegas folks would be shoe-ins. The Nevada town is world renowned for its heady mix of the extravagant, the seedy, the naughty, the second-hand smoky and the jaw-droppingly gaudy.

And yet, it's been done, by many, and often. And contrary to the message put out by the "What Happens Here, Stays Here" geniuses, Sin City is not the only place to gamble the nights away.


Dozens of other destinations around the world offer their own takes on the gaming getaway, combining the excitement of the bet with their own local flavor -- roulette meets eco-tourism, white sand beaches, jazz or the fastest divorce in history.

Las Vegas may hold the title, but it's not the only city of sin. Here, you'll find 10 destinations for the gambler looking for something a little bit different. Something with less neon, or more yachts or a few deciduous trees.

Something, perhaps, with a Dutch accent.

10: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Amsterdam's Holland Casino sits on the Leidsekade Canal.
© Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis

No stranger to vice tourism, Amsterdam has hosted visitors looking for sex and drugs pretty much since sex and drugs were invented, tsked and regulated. What so many of those visitors don't know is that they can gamble there, too -- and not just in the red-light district.

The Netherlands is home to more than a dozen government-operated casinos, and Amsterdam has a couple. One is in the airport, a rather casual affair, for placing some heavily jet-lagged bets; and another one out in the city with a dress code, a cover charge and a great location right on the water [source: Carmichael].


The city's posh Holland Casino shows up along a popular canal-cruise route, and it's the only one in Amsterdam that offers the types of nightclubs, poker tournaments and fine restaurants you find in a nice Vegas joint [source: WGA].

And then there are the countless non-government-run locales, often literally back rooms, with free entry, terrible odds and the stench of desperation you find in a bad Vegas joint. If you're looking to win, don't bother [source: WGA]. If you're looking to fully experience all that is gambling in Amsterdam, then by all means, have a go.

Check out Amsterdam's impressive modern architecture, museums and sculpture parks during the trip. Art and vice are historically good buddies.

9: Atlantic City, New Jersey

Atlantic City, with its boardwalk, entertainment and casinos, has been a popular travel destination for decades.

Atlantic City was once best known for blue-haired elderly ladies and nickel slots. Both are still there in spades, but the place has changed.

The "East Coast's Las Vegas" has put money into glamming things up [source: Groene]. High-class casinos now join the ranks of the city's 12 gambling establishments, handily located off the main boardwalk, complete with spas, fine dining and easy access to stores that only the 1 percent can afford [source: TripAdvisor].


Still, plenty of AC's casinos are from the old school, for those looking for something more down-to-earth. For families, more wholesome entertainment like roller coasters, parasailing, a lighthouse tour and dolphin-watching expeditions are all in close proximity to the gaming destinations. After suffering damage in 2012's Hurricane Sandy, Atlantic City is eager to return to its classic tourist destination form.

While you're on the boardwalk, pick up some salt water taffy. It's almost certainly as good as you've imagined.

8: Biloxi, Mississippi

Beauvoir, the former home of Jefferson Davis, has been restored since Hurricane Katrina and provides a diversion for history-loving gamblers.
© G.E. Kidder Smith/CORBIS

Mississippi's Gulf Coast took a beating in 2005's Hurricane Katrina, but it's making a big comeback. Biloxi, for one, is in near-prime form, and that means gambling is back.

About a dozen casinos have reopened, and at least one is a smoke-free environment, if you can believe it [source: Trip Advisor]. Several establishment turned destruction into opportunity with incredible post-Katrina renovations, including the luxurious MGM Mirage and Harrah's Grand Biloxi [source: Groene].


The city's golf courses, bike trails and fishing and shrimping trips are also back in action for some pre- and post-gambling fresh air. Biloxi's nationally-ranked children's museum, the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, is a great attraction for families, as are the shoreline's ferry boats (with dolphin watching!), kayak expeditions and wildlife tours. The restored abode of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, is also a draw for history buffs [source: TripAdvisor].

Happily for those who have an off-day (or a typical day) at a Biloxi craps table, one of the city's most beloved attractions, the all-things-Biloxi Visitor's Center, is free.

7: Macau Region, China

Macau's Grand Lisboa Casino glitters like a crown at night.
© Rudy Sulgan/Corbis

A short ferry-boat ride from Hong Kong, there's a gambling destination bringing in more cash than Las Vegas -- four times more cash, in fact [source: Delaney]. Were it a competition (and maybe it is), this would probably make China's Macau region the gambling capital of the world.

Macau has 18 casinos, including Vegas staples like MGM and Wynn, along with other Sin City-style entertainment: amusement parks, shopping and bars that never close [source: TripAdvisor]. It's a decidedly Western-style gaming hub smack in the middle of an ancient Chinese fishing village, though for tourists who want a feel for Macau's pre-poker life, the city does feature a preserved historic area [source: Macau Tourism].


And don't fear, questionable attractions and unusual imitations aren't limited to the Nevada desert, either. While you're in town, don't miss the paintball park at Macau's Fisherman's Wharf. There, you'll find a life-size depiction of what looks a lot like a crash scene from "Black Hawk Down," with heavily armed U.S. soldiers standing beside a downed helicopter, in the midst of a whole fake North African city -- the perfect paintball war zone, apparently.

6: Monte Carlo, Monaco

The Monte Carlo Casino, pictured here around the turn of the 20th century, has long been the world's premier luxury gambling spot.
© PoodlesRock/Corbis

Monte Carlo is not your typical gambling destination -- at least not for the typical tourist, anyway. It's a city of yachts, diamonds and old money, its most famous attraction the centuries-old Monte Carlo Casino. There is no neon here.

The casino, of course, will accept new money, too, so if you're looking for something a bit classier in your next gaming vacation, the tiny city-state of Monaco welcomes you. Located on the French Riviera, it's a world away from the likes of Las Vegas or Macau or Atlantic City. James Bond gambled at the Monte Carlo Casino. In more than one movie.


The casino requires formal attire -- tuxedos for men, gowns for women -- and it looks like an actual castle, not an imitation of one [source: Formula One Grand Prix; it's the only remaining F1 course on city streets, not a race track [source: Monaco F1].

5: New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans during Mardi Gras features great music, elaborate floats and beautiful costumes.
© Barry Lewis/In Pictures/Corbis

Like Biloxi, only more so, New Orleans' recovery after Hurricane Katrina is a sight worth a special trip -- and there's gambling to be found, to boot.

While the city has only one major casino in city limits, you'll find slot machines absolutely everywhere [source: Jazz Fest for an amazing line-up of musicians.


Any time of year, the kids will love the free ferry that carries tourists along the Mississippi River and the old streetcars that run through the most interesting parts of town. Or, just leave them at home -- what happens in New Orleans stays there, too.

4: Puerto Rico

Guests shoot craps at Puerto Rico's Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza.
© Bob Krist/Corbis

Gambling in Puerto Rico has a different flavor from many other destinations on this list, mostly because of the setting: The casinos are surrounded by Caribbean beaches, rainforests and eco-adventure opportunities that might make those free mid-day martinis at the blackjack table seem like a somewhat-less-great idea. Zip-lining is not for the drunk.

The island has more than 20 casinos, with entertainment and restaurants and hotel rooms on site, in a mix of Vegas-style complexes and ones with a bit more local flavor [source: SPR]. Salsa clubs, rum drinks and an overall Caribbean vibe are everywhere, lest you forget where you are. Gamblers with downtime can also experience 270 miles of beaches (of the white sand, gold sand, black sand and seaglass varieties), kayak trips to a bioluminescent bay and handmade mojitos by the sea all hours of the day or night [source: SPR].


Check out some other local flavor beyond the city zone while you're there -- coffee plantations, Old San Juan and art festivals make excellent day trips. The island is tiny, so you can do more than one thing in a day and still make it back for some late-night table games.

3: Reno, Nevada

Reno features Vegas-like attractions, but on a smaller scale.
© Richard Cummins/Corbis

There's something to be said for the comfort of sticking with what you know; but if what you know is Vegas, you can stay pretty close to "home" and still try something a little different. It's called Reno.

It ain't fancy, but the little Nevada town has all the gambling you could want, an anything-goes atmosphere, and an overall cheaper vacation than you'll usually find in Vegas, if that's what's you seek [source: blood test, and if it doesn't work out, no worries -- say hello to the Reno invention that is the "divorce resort" [source: Obringer]. (Nothing like vacationing with a purpose.)


Reno is pretty well-located for a side trip, too. Close to Lake Tahoe and right on the California border, it's easy to work some Reno gaming into a whole other kind of getaway.

2: San Diego, California

A peacock struts his stuff at the San Diego Zoo. He wouldn't look too out of place at the glitzy and colorful casinos.
© Chase Swift/CORBIS

San Diego is an obvious destination for foodies, outdoorsy folks, sun bathers, hipsters and artsy types. Museums, galleries, funky shops, beaches and fine restaurants abound. And so, it turns out, do casinos.

With San Diego's notable Native American population -- 18 tribes residing on expansive reserves -- gaming is big business in the southern California region [source: casinos offer pretty much what Vegas does -- slots, blackjack, roulette, poker and lots of other ways to quickly give away your cash. Some establishments include dining, lodging, golf, art museums and spa services, while others are all about the bet [source: SDTA].


When you make it back to the city, don't forget to hit the zoo. There are only 1,600 giant pandas left in the world, and the San Diego Zoo has four of them [source: San Diego Zoo].

1: St. Louis, Missouri

Casinos and other entertainments are located in St. Louis' city center -- one is even right across from the famous Gateway Arch.
© Owaki - Kulla/CORBIS

When you think "St. Louis," gambling is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Standing exactly where Lewis and Clark started their journey? Sure. A ride to the top of Gateway Arch for a view of the city at 630 feet (190 meters) [source: ESL]? Why not. Tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, with samples? Obviously.

But high-stakes gaming?

Yep. St. Louis has three casinos, and another three live right nearby [source: poker isn't out of your way at all.

If you bring the kids (or even if you don't), don't miss the city's interactive children's museum, the Magic House. The Oval Office replica alone is worth a visit.

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Alternatives to the Las Vegas Vacation

Lest you think I've never even been to the place: At first thought, I wasn't sure how to define "Vegas alternatives." Are we talking gambling? Cirque de Soleil-caliber shows? Celine Dion? Fine dining? An endless supply of tacky?

Focus was necessary, and so I picked gambling. My reasoning was this: Lots of people go to Vegas and don't see a show. How many go and don't drop some cash in a casino?

And so, what I've compiled is a list of gambling destinations that aren't Vegas, though Macau, for one, is coming into its own in the tacky zone (and Cirque du Soleil actually opened there in 2012 -- though it quit the region after low ticket sales) [source: CNN Travel]. For fine dining, check Zagat. For Celine Dion, you're on your own.

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