"A Gambler's Gambling Town" Top 5 Page for this destination Reno by SteveOSF

Reno Travel Guide: 422 reviews and 1,049 photos


Reno has long been known as "The Biggest Little City in the World" due to a lot of gambling being compacted into a little town. But the town has grown in recent years, since people were attracted by the low cost of living in Reno, and it is not so little anymore. Many new housing subdivisions have expanded this "Little City" into the adjacent former desert landscape.

Without the quantity of live shows of Las Vegas, Reno relied on its games to lure visitors. To attract gamblers from the more glamorous Las Vegas, Reno historically offered more liberal games and a friendlier small town atmosphere compared to its southern Nevada rival. With its single deck blackjack and relatively liberal slots, Reno was a better place to gamble. And best of all, unlike Las Vegas, most of the casinos were an easy walk from each other. For gamblers, Reno was a true gambling town.

It also had a built in cliental from the large metropolitan region of the San Francisco Bay Area that is only four hours away by car across the California boarder, as well as from the Sacramento area that is only two hours away by car. In Las Vegas, when you meet other tourists they would be equally likely to be from anywhere across the United States or even the world. In Reno, they are most likely from San Francisco or Sacramento.

But Reno has changed. With the spread of competition from Indian casinos that are so much closer to its Northern California customer base. Reno has felt the pain of more direct competition and has tightened up its games as a result. The net effect has been detrimental to the City's gaming industry, where many casinos have either been closed or devoured by their competitors. Sure, some big clubs are still going strong, but noticeably fewer people are betting on Reno for a getaway these days. The heyday of Reno's glory as a gambling destination appears to be dying.

So as more people move to Reno, its gambling, faced with additional competition, is consolidating. Reno will probably never cease being a gambling destination, as it will likely continue to have enough of a following to linger indefinitely. Whether it ever regains its position and popularity it once enjoyed is for the future to reveal. Yet Reno remains a decent place for a gambling excursion. It costs less than Las Vegas and the walking nature of its downtown makes mobility easier, as well as selecting better games easier. Although not as welcoming as it once was, it still maintains a friendlier atmosphere than Las Vegas. Reno is also close to Lake Tahoe and other High Sierra adventures.

Some Useful Information

I've placed some general gambling tips that apply equally to Reno on my Las Vegas page. Click on the link below to read them:

General Gambling Tips


Many of Reno's casinos have closed since the increase of legalized gambling in California. Many others have been devoured by their competitors. Yet some still survive. However, the number of casinos operating in Reno has greatly diminished since the rapid spread of legalized gambling within California. To help illustrate this point, I'll try to list some of the casinos that have perished, been opened, or have stood the test of time since the early 1980s.

Still Alive and Possibly Thriving

Some clubs in Reno that have stood the test of time include:

Harrah's - This large hotel remains as the centerpiece of the Virginia Street Strip. This place has grown and eaten its rivals along the way. It even ate the old bank that was on Virginia Street. Founded by Bill Harrah, it is one of the original downtown Reno casinos.
Cal Neva - One of the earliest downtown casinos. It remains a small stakes kind of joint but is thriving after buying the hotels of the former Virginian (next door) and Onslow (across the street). It is still a very popular place for slots.
Eldorado - A fairly good sized casino located on Virginia Street across the railroad tracks (that are now submerged below street level) from the heart of Downtown.
Circus Circus - A fairly large casino that caters to vacationers with families and slightly lower stakes gamblers.
Atlantis - This large Las Vegas style establishment is located off by itself on Virginia Street.
Peppermill - This fairly good size operation is lost between downtown and the Atlantis on Virginia Street.
Sands - This medium sized club is located a couple of short blocks from downtown.
Grand Sierra (formerly the Reno Hilton before it was the MGM Grand) - A large Las Vegas style club isolated out by the airport.
Gold Dust - Mostly a local's joint near Keystone Avenue.
Holiday Inn - A smaller club a little distance from downtown.
Nugget - A very small club on Virginia Street. It used to have a single one dollar limit blackjack table and mostly slots. Now it just has just slots.

The nearby casinos of Boomtown in Verdi and the giant John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks are still around.

The Departed

Clubs that have closed include:

Harold's - One of the original downtown casinos. Although a fair sized casino, it suffered from a lack of a hotel and the property was bought by Harrah's. Harrah's demolished the buildings and the land is now an open entryway to Harrah's that is occasionally used for concerts.
Nevada Club - A smaller club, and also one of the original casinos, that was wedged between Harrah's and Harold's. It suffered the same fate as Harold's.
Fitzgerald's - This older medium sized casino was well located on Virginia Street and had changed hands a few times over the years. It closed in late 2008.
Golden Dragon (Previously the Flamingo Hilton before it was the Sahara) - A large downtown hotel and casino that has gone away.
Mapes - A medium sized casino located in a brick building that was once the tallest building in Nevada. It was demolished.
Money Tree (Later Eddy's Fabulous Fifties) - A medium sized club across the street from Harrah's is closed.
Sundowner - A medium to large casino a few blocks from downtown that had a friendly atmosphere. It has been converted to condominiums.
Horseshoe - A small downtown club on Virginia Street that is closed.
Silver Spur - A small downtown club on Virginia Street that has gone away.
Onslow - A smaller hotel and casino on Virginia Street. The hotel portion has been taken over by the Cal Neva.
Comstock - A medium size hotel and casino two blocks from Virginia Street that has been converted to housing.
Pioneer - A smaller hotel and casino that was on Virginia Street just beyond the Truckee River from downtown.
Riverside - An older hotel and casino that was right on the Truckee River near Virginia Street.
Mr. C's - A very small club that I believe was the original casino operated by the owner of the Sands.
Holiday - A smaller hotel and casino near downtown that was a bit of a dive.
Ramada Inn - A smaller casino a few blocks from downtown. The hotel is still open.
Colonial - A very small casino that was attached to a large motel.
Gold Dust West - An older club that was a block from downtown.
Kings Inn - A small hotel and casino near the railroad tracks downtown that likely suffered from a poor location.

New Clubs that Died in Childhood

Here are some clubs that opened since the early 1980s, only to close before too long:

Riverboat - A medium sized laid back downtown hotel and casino that was one block from Virginia Street. Its exterior resembled a riverboat.

Virginian - A medium sized hotel and casino on Virginia Street next to the Cal Neva with a friendly atmosphere. Its ownership was affiliated with the Sundowner. After it closed, the Cal Neva took over its hotel.

Youngsters That are Still Ticking

Some of newer clubs that have opened seem to be doing fine. These include:

Silver Legacy - A large casino on the block between the Eldorado and Circus Circus. This block was once occupied by the Mayfair Market. The club is popular with the younger crowd. A walkway over the side streets connects this casino to the Eldorado and the Circus Circus.

Siena - A medium sized club one block from Virginia Street on the Truckee River. It has a friendlier atmosphere and more liberal games than most downtown casinos.


Some clubs have managed to do well the last two decades. The new ones only had about a 50 percent chance of survival. And overall, there far less than half of the number of casinos in Reno than were open in the early 1980s.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:A small town with big gaming action.
  • Cons:It is a shell of its former self.
  • In a nutshell:A more laid back alternative to Las Vegas.
  • Last visit to Reno: Apr 2008
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (31)

Comments (5)

  • machomikemd's Profile Photo
    Nov 5, 2009 at 3:37 AM

    just been to reno again and i'm updating my reno tips.

  • Jul 6, 2009 at 2:57 AM

    So sad to see what has happened to Reno. It was so depressing to see the dark buildings in the downtown area where once was the hustle and bustle of neon and the noise of people having so much fun! I am afraid I won't be going back.

  • Tugboatguy's Profile Photo
    Jun 6, 2008 at 7:58 PM

    Xlnt casino history update & Gr8 tips. Were last there in 1980 & cab driver to airport told us a gr8 story: "You wouldn't believe my (wrist) watch collection". Some gamblers left with only their return flight ticket and gave up a watch for the ride. Doug

  • atufft's Profile Photo
    Jun 1, 2008 at 12:20 AM

    Opps! The whole set of tips are outstanding. You really know a lot about gambling! Great effort!

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    May 31, 2008 at 12:25 PM

    I still haven't made it to Reno or Lake Tahoe. Looks like a beautiful area!


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