Why You Should Gamble in Reno Instead of Las Vegas

People at a Roulette Table and Reno Front Entrance

Why would a gambler visit Reno instead of Las Vegas? Don’t get me wrong. I used to visit Vegas twice a year. I love a lot of things about Sin City. But there’s plenty to dislike about Vegas, too.

It’s exhausting to deal with that much kitsch, pretense, and sleaze 24 hours a day. Vegas has something corporate and plastic about it, at least most of it, while Reno is largely independent of megacorporations. Also, Reno leans into the whole authentic small-town atmosphere.

In this post, I break down all the reasons you might want to gamble in Reno instead of Las Vegas.

Many of the Largest Casinos in Reno Are Still Privately Owned

I prefer to do business with privately-owned companies rather than public companies. You might consider doing the same. Atlantis, Calneva, and Peppermill are all privately owned.

Atlantis Casino Resort has three towers and 824 rooms, some of which have jacuzzis in them. It’s considered one of the better luxury properties in Reno. The property has a history dating back to 1972 when it opened as Golden Road Motor Inn, a small-ish motel.

The property has been expanded and updated repeatedly over the decades. It’s as nice as most luxury casinos in Vegas, and it has a more personal feel.

Calneva is a historic casino in Downtown Reno that’s been in operation since 1962. It’s changed hands several years. It’s a smaller property with no hotel attached, although it used to also have hotel rooms at Virginian Tower.

Those hotel rooms have been closed for over a decade now, leaving only the small casino. It’s one of the original Reno hotels, and it’s a fun place to gamble.

Peppermill Resort & Casino is the other privately-owned luxury hotel and casino in town. It’s twice the size of the Atlantis and is a huge convention draw. The spa is one of the big attractions there, as well as the geothermally-heated swimming pools. It’s also home to the largest poker room in Reno.

The Peppermill also has a long history. It opened as a coffee shop and lounge in 1971 and started offering gambling in 1979. They started adding motel rooms in 1980 and expanded into a hotel with a tower in 1986.

Pool Area of Peppermill Reno

You can contrast these casinos with the casinos on the Strip in Las Vegas, which are almost all owned by one of four or five publicly-traded corporations. At one time, the Strip casinos had different flavors, but now, the rooms in one are almost indistinguishable from the rooms in any of the others.

You’ll see no real difference between Excalibur and Luxor anymore, for example, although in the 1990s, there was a huge difference.

Reno Culture Feels More Down to Earth

First off, if you want to meet new people at a bar on the Las Vegas Strip, you’ll probably need to pay a cover charge and wait at least an hour just to get in. And when you do, the people you meet there most likely aren’t looking to build any wholesome relationships with you.

In fact, a lot of the folks on the Strip are tourists and are visiting Vegas for the purpose of “having a good time.” And that easily results in meeting a lot of people with bigger, more obnoxious personalities.

In fact, this is pretty symptomatic of the whole over-hyped Las Vegas image. People who visit Vegas aim to wear fancy clothes, drive luxurious cars, and talk about specific status symbols. So, unless you’re planning on throwing money around like a drunken sailor, you might feel out of place.

On the other hand, the people in Reno will likely be friendlier and pay more attention to you regardless of how much or how little money you’re spending. They’re usually just plain folks who aren’t looking to grab attention or cause a ruckus on the basis of having a “Vegas experience.”

If you like to keep your gambling a little more low-key, then the casinos in Reno will feel less pretentious and a little more authentic to you. And you’ll find that most of the people are, too.

Reno vs. Other Cities in the World

When I worked for Hotels.com, I got to visit many of the biggest cities in the United States. New York City was on the list, of course, but I also spent time in San Francisco and Washington DC. I never made it to Chicago, but I visited Miami and Fort Lauderdale multiple times. And of course, being a classic movie lover, I’ve been to Hollywood.

So, I have some bragging rights when it comes to seeing some of the big sites throughout the United States. Many of those experiences are as interesting as you’d think, but I’ve also always preferred more offbeat attractions.

Miami Valley Gaming Logo and Attractions

My favorite thing about Miami was the Wolfsonian Museum, where I learned what art deco really means. My favorite thing about Washington DC was the Folger Shakespeare Library.

You can find some of these cool authentic experiences in Las Vegas, too, but they’re dwindling as time goes on. Also, all these cities are expensive to travel to. If you want to stay somewhere nice and eat good meals in any of these locations, you’ll need to be ready to spend some money.

Also, in most of these cities, I always felt like I was being treated like a tourist rather than as an individual. In Reno, though, they have a small-town vibe which meant people were friendlier than they would be in larger metropolitan cities. I was treated more like a welcome guest. Also, things didn’t cost nearly as much there for lodging and dining.

A Plethora of Cool Things in a Small Town

Reno bills itself as the “Biggest Little City in the World.” One wonders why such a small town with such folksy natives has big casinos and so many vacation amenities available. I live in a town almost the same size as Reno, and we don’t have anything resembling the dining and entertainment options available.

But in the 1950s and 1960s, Reno was comparable to Las Vegas in terms of the entertainment that they attracted. And tourists traveled to where the entertainment was. Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. didn’t just play at the Sands in Vegas. They also played regularly in Reno.

When you have some of the richest people in the United States visiting your town, you develop more taste in the good life than a city that size would otherwise have. That level of good taste hasn’t gone away over the years.

You’ll find bars, casinos, hotels, and restaurants in Reno that rival anywhere else in the country and pay pennies on the dollar for the experiences. In fact, no other city in the United States with such a small population (about 250,000) offers the same kind of entertainment and restaurant scene.

Is Reno Low-Rent or Trashy Compared to Las Vegas?

The media, especially television and movies, hasn’t been kind to Reno, Nevada. If you’ve never been to Reno, and your only image of Reno is from TV shows like Reno 911 or movies like Balls of Fury or The Muppet Movie, you’d be forgiven for thinking of Reno as being somehow second-rate.

Reno Sign and Blackjack Hands

Reno is always presented poorly in comparison to Las Vegas, but that’s not an accurate depiction at all. The entertainment, in particular, is far better than you’d think it would be based on these depictions. The headlining acts in Reno can compare to Vegas, in fact.

The economy in Reno, though, has suffered more than economies in other areas. Employment rates have rebounded dramatically, though.

The Restaurant Scene in Reno Is Terrific

A lot of cutting-edge restaurants have opened in Reno over the last few years. Some of these are more interesting than the glitzier and more expensive restaurants in Las Vegas, too.

Here are some examples:

  • Liberty Food and Wine Exchange is a restaurant everyone should try at least once. They describe themselves as an “artisan eatery.” They’re located in Downtown Reno, and they focus on hand-crafted small plates that are meant to be shared with your dining companions.
  • Bab Café is an exceptional Korean restaurant that will disappoint no one. They’re open from noon to 8 pm, and you can get a great meal there for less than $15 a person. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’ll find plenty of options here, too.
  • Centro Midtown offers a surprisingly modern and sophisticated dining experience at reasonable prices. Their menu changes according to the season, but if they have croissant bread pudding available, order it. You can thank me later.
  • Blind Dog Tavern is the best bar in town for expert-made cocktails at reasonable prices. The Robert California is the drink I would order, mostly because I loved the character on The Office so much. Even if you’re not a drinker, Blind Dog Tavern has a fun atmosphere to soak up.

Conclusion

Why should you consider gambling in Reno instead of Las Vegas? It should be a no-brainer at this point. You can find similar amenities with more character and more down-to-earth people in Reno.

Crowds will be smaller even during peak times of the year. And there’s some charm to the smaller town vibe. Also, you won’t have to spend nearly as much money!