Reno is one of the largest gambling destinations in America. Strangely enough, though, it draws very little mainstream attention.
The “Biggest Little City in the World” doesn’t have the pizazz of Las Vegas or even Atlantic City. This is despite the fact that Reno features over 20 casinos and a number of outdoor activities.
Due to its proximity to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Reno is perfect for biking, hiking, kayaking, and swimming.
With everything that Reno has to offer, why doesn’t it get more publicity? I’ll cover the main reasons through this post.
Where Exactly Is Reno?
Many Americans have heard of Reno. Most could tell you that it’s in Nevada. Beyond this, though, they have no clue what part of the state it’s in or which major cities it’s near.
Located in Washoe County, Reno lies on the west-central border of the Silver State. It’s about 20 miles from both the capital Carson City and Lake Tahoe.
It bears a suburb called Sparks. The Reno-Sparks metropolitan area is the second-most populated part of Nevada after the Las Vegas-Henderson metro area.
Geography-wise, the city is based at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. Therefore, it offers spectacular mountain views and outdoor recreational activities.
Reno also features its own little Silicon Valley called Truckee Meadows. Major companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Tesla have invested heavily in the area.
Reno Draws Unfortunate Comparisons to Las Vegas
Reno will forever be cursed with comparisons to Las Vegas. No American gambling destination even comes close to the latter.
Nevertheless, the “Biggest Little City in the World” feels even smaller when pitted against its cross-state rival. Actually, it’s not much of a rivalry.
People around the world know Vegas as the home of lavish resorts, endless entertaining options, five-star restaurants, 24-hour wedding chapels, risqué activities, and the hottest nightclubs. Reno, meanwhile, is known as “some town with casinos.”
Regardless, Nevadans and neighboring states still compare the two locations due to their fairly close proximity (seven hours). When given a choice between the two, almost everybody picks Sin City.
It Has the Stigma of Being the “Old Gambling Capital”
Believe it or not, Reno actually used to be the premiere gambling destination in both Nevada and the US in general. Well into the 1950s, it was a thriving town that drew high rollers, celebrities, and countless other visitors.
Las Vegas began rising to prominence at this point. American Airlines bought out Reno Air in 2000, then closed down their fleet shortly after the 9/11 attack (2001).
Native American casinos in California began providing increased competition (discussed later). Once-notable resorts began to fall, including Fitzgerald’s Horseshoe Club, Maples Hotel, Nevada Club, and the Primadonna. All of these events have taken their toll and made Reno take a distant backseat to Vegas.
Reno Doesn’t Draw the LA Crowd… It Draws Sacramento
The many millionaires and Hollywood celebrities from LA don’t go to Reno. They go to Sin City, which, in addition to providing far more entertainment, is a much closer drive.
LA seems like a far drive away from Vegas at 270 miles. However, Interstate-15 makes this a quick and relatively effortless 270 miles.
Meanwhile, a drive to Reno from LA is about eight hours. The trip isn’t exactly a breeze either, due to the surrounding mountains. Sacramento is the closest big city to Reno at 100 miles away. Of course, with 500,000 residents, Sacramento isn’t exactly that big.
The Bay Area is 200 miles away. Reno does draw a crowd from Oakland and San Francisco. However, these same people might rather take the short flight to Vegas instead of driving to Reno.
I’ve frozen my butt off during a few Las Vegas nights. However, this nighttime desert cold is nothing compared to Reno.
Outside the summer months, Reno is cold just about every night of the year. You’ll need to wear long sleeves and possibly a jacket during most evenings.
The city’s high altitude presents more problems on this front. Reno is about a mile above sea level, so it doesn’t hold much daytime heat at night.
One more problem is the altitude sickness. If you’re not used to being in the mountains, you might suffer this problem at some point during a trip.
Mob Money Went to Vegas
As mentioned before, Reno used to be America’s choice gambling destination. But Las Vegas’ fast growth in the late 1950s and ‘60s changed all of this.
They spared few expenses in building lavish hotels and casinos. After all, the mafia needed to make their money laundering fronts look legitimate.
Today’s Vegas casinos feature corporate ownership. However, the town’s foundation owes itself to the mob’s original funding. Reno had a mafia presence in earlier decades, too. It just never saw the massive influx of mob money that Vegas did.
The City Could Use a Cleanup
The point of this post isn’t to rip on Reno. But I can’t help but mention that some areas have seen better days.
The main street features boarded-up buildings. Streets have more litter than even Atlantic City, which is saying something.
Casinos bear graffiti on the outside. Reno has a more visible homeless population than Vegas. In short, this isn’t the world’s most glamorous gambling spot.
Reno Competes With California Indian Casinos
California signed Proposition 1A, the Gambling on Tribal Lands Amendment, in 2001. This law paved the way for the Golden State to negotiate with Native American tribes on opening casinos.
The aftermath has forced Reno to deal with increased competition along the western Nevada-eastern California border.
Reno used to draw lots of bus traffic from CA. Those in the Bay Area, Sacramento, and other middle parts of the state frequently took trips to the Biggest Little City.
This bus traffic has mostly dwindled down in recent years. The same people can take shorter trips to Indian casinos in the Sacramento and Lake Tahoe (CA side) areas.
Should You Still Consider Visiting Reno?
Reno is far from a perfect gambling destination. My general takeaway from the place is that it’s seen much better days.
It doesn’t offer anywhere close to the same glitz as Las Vegas. Reno doesn’t have the proximity to major California metropolitan areas that Vegas and Native American casinos do.
This town also has physical barriers preventing it from being an ultimate casino hub. Notably, the mountain range makes Reno cold and can give visitors altitude sickness.
Even with all this being said, though, the Biggest Little City deserves some recognition. For starters, it still offers plenty of casinos, nightclubs, restaurants, and side entertainment.
The mountains and Lake Tahoe also make this a great place for both hiking and water-based activities. You can get to the lake in just over 20 minutes.
Reno is also less crowded and packs major attractions into a tighter area. This situation means for less walking compared to Vegas and fewer people to walk around.
Perhaps most importantly, Reno is the much cheaper alternative to Vegas. The average room price won’t run you $150 or $200. You don’t need to pay $100 for a decent meal for two.
Consider checking out one of these great Reno resorts and casinos if you ever end up in “The Biggest Little City in the World”:
In summary, Reno doesn’t compare to Las Vegas or Atlantic City in terms of amenities and fancy restaurants. It does, however, win out when considering affordability, outdoor recreation, and mountain views.