HAVE YOU EVER:
1. Gone to a "Las Vegas Night" and forgotten to eat or drink?
2. Developed tennis elbow from feeding a pachinko machine?
3. Whispered sweet nothings to the dice and secretly winked at Park Place while playing Monopoly?
If you answer to any of the above is positive, chances are you believe that somewhere deep inside your psyche is a latent winning streak waiting to be unleashed. Chances are you relish the sound of poker chips clinking, roulette wheels whirring, and jackpots paying. You enjoy a psychological risk, a reasonable probability factor and an element of doubt. You like to gamble!
There is no reason why you can't incorporate this inclination into your vacation plans. There are gambling meccas galore in the Western Hemisphere, and you need only point your compass in one of several different directions. Nevada offers a lush world of first-class entertainment and accommodations; Atlantic City boasts the newest casino-land and the old Boardwalk shore; finally, you can seek your fortune in the Caribbean, claiming your winnings from over a dozen different islands or assuaging your losses with the balmy panacea of the tropics.
A gambling vacation need be risky only in the casino. The rest of the trip should be a definitive commodity, with appropriate consolation activities. Here is a capsule rundown; all hotel rates are per person, double occupancy, May through Dec. 1. Unless otherwise indicated, all hotels have casinos.
Atlantic City: Beginning with the newest gambling bonanza, you may have heard that the stakes are high and the place is crowded. They are, and it is. There are currently two casino hotels - Resorts International and the Boardwalk Regency - and although there are two more scheduled to open in late fall, Phil Wexler, director of public relations for Resorts International, observed that on the gambling circuit more casinos attract more people. Gamblers like to change their luck and casino-hop, according to Wexler, and the more selections available, the more people will come. In plain lingo, the crowds are here to stay in Atlantic City, at least for a while.
On a Friday or Saturday night, the odds against finding an opening at the tables are considerably worse than the odds of winning once your get there. Week nights are somewhat better, and the early afternoon hours are usually less crowded. There are no longer lines queueing at the entrance, but the blackjack, roulette and dice tables are often two and three deep waiting for a seat. "The real problem with this," states the Polish Prince - an avid, hi-rolling gambler who prefers this nomenclature - "is that once you DO get a seat, you can't enjoy the gambling with people breathing down your neck, praying for you to lose so that THEY can have a seat."
Furthermore, the biggest crowds are at the low-minimum tables. You won't have nearly as long a wait if you are willing to bet a $25 minimum on blackjack as you will if you want a lower stake. And while Resorts has instigated several tables on a $2 and $5 minimum level for the peons who prefer to win gradually and lose more subtly, the bulk of the gaming tables are in the $25 bracket.
You do have other options. Once in the massive casinos (each about 60,000 square feet), you can feed the slot machines with quarters or dollars or nickels if you look hard - and while you won't wait in line for the bandit, you MAY have to wait for the change to feed it.
Your second option for crowd-avoidance is to play baccarat, where the minimum bet is $20. The game moves quickly, the chips rise and fall while you blink, and the plush game pit is seldom filled to capacity. The casinos are open from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. on weekdays and until 6 a.m. weekends.
Both hotels are mammoth affairs, offering a variety of sybaritic temptations at every turn. There are five restaurants in Resorts International, four in the Boardwalk, and cabaret theaters in both. Everywhere you turn are cushoned carpets, crystal chandeliers, elegant decor, and people, people, people.
Much of the city still has seedy overtones, but as the renewal continues and competition grows, the town clearly has enticing possibilities. And since July 1, Ocean Airways has been offering daily non-stop jet service to Atlantic City from National and Baltimore International Airports.
Hotels: Resorts International, $60- $90 daily per room; Boardwalk Regency, $62- $82.
Nevada: Everyone knows that Las Vegas and Reno are the neon gambling cornucopias of the wagering world. That's where you go for the best odds and for the most meticulous professionalism in gaming. Las Vegas has a spangle and splash of hedonistic delights to propel the gambler into a soothing euphoria even in his non-gambling hours. Where else can you see Liberace drive a gold and white Rolls Royce onto a stage with glittering fountains hearlding his arrival? Where else do bare-bosomed girls drop out of the ceiling to waft their feathers in your face and scatter sequins in your drink?
In Vegas you can dine and drink in Roman-orgiastic fashion. Reno is not far behind Vegas, broadening the action with its MGM Grand Hotel, a $131-million twin to its Las Vegas counterpart, and the new Park Tower, featuring slot machines which pay off in cars, trailers and campers. And though Reno has taken a back seat to Vegas as a gambling mecca, it has the natural tourist attractions that Vegas lacks, such as crystal-clear Lake Tahoe 50 miles away, with its 100-odd ski lifts and mountainous beauty.
Tahoe has a special atmosphere all its own because it attracts the outdoor crowd (skiers in the winter, campers in the summer) who play outside all day, then try Lady Luck in the evenings. Mind-boggling in its natural beauty, Tahoe puts on a new face at night with big-name entertainment and its evening influx of Californians who drive across the border to gamble at Harah's South Shore, the Sahara Tahoe, and others.
Choose Nevada for your casino vacation if gambling is your PRIMARY interest, if you prefer all-night parties to unstructured time slots. "The best gambling available is in Vegas," claims one veteran high-roller. Why?
First, the odds are better. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that the one-armed bandits pay better in Nevada.
The sound of winning jackpot bells seems almost perpetual, and unless you are in total disfavor with the Gods of Risk, you will eventually get some return on your slot input. This doesn't mean you are guaranteed a win - casinos are not noted for their charity - but you'll get a more even chance with bandits in Nevada than anywhere else.
Likewise at the gaming tables, house rules favor the gambler more in Nevada. With blackjack, for example, you can split any double in Vegas, but in most other casinos - on the islands, for instance - you can usually split only a 10 or 11. With a soft 17 (ace plus 6), the dealer must stay in Vegas, but can draw in the Caribbean - subtle edges that can make a big difference in the odds.
Second, the choice is broader. In Vegas, you can gamble any hour of any day, while casino hours elsewhere are limited. Nevada's gambling stakes range from one penny (in some slot machines) up to a usual maximum of $1,000, whereas the top Caribbean bet is usually between $200- $500, and the tables are often $5 minimums. Even when you CAN find $1 and $2 tables, they are frequently inaccessible. Finally, the variety of games is broader in Vegas or Reno.
Casino Hotels: Las Vegas is a mecca for charter package travelers, and a host of short-term packages are offered from most major cities in the United States. All major hotels have casinos (even the gas stations have slot machines), and many also offer elaborate entertainment as well as restaurants. Rates range from the low $30 up to $55 per room, but check for packages with travel agencies, airlines, and individual hotels.
Bahamas: Currently, there are three casinos in the Bahamas. On Nassau, there's the Playboy Casino in the Ambassador Beach Hotel (which is building another casino across the street). The Paradise Island Casino is in an arcade between the Britannia Beach and Loews Paradise Island Hotel. "El Casino" in Freeport is not in a hotel, but the Bahama Princess and Princess Towers are nearby.
Bahamian casinos are open long hours (usually starting at 10 a.m. for the slots, and from 1 or 2 p.m. until the wee hours for other games) and the atmosphere is opulent. Casino action is slow and somewhat casual during the day, but once the sun goes down the chic outfits appear and the operation goes into high gear. Paradise Island has a show in a club just off the casino. You can stay at other hotels and still gamble there, but expect to pay a $2 bridge toll.
Freeport has a Miami Beach air to it, burgeoning with high-rise hotels, all trying to outdo one another in eyecatching splecdor, and though it has suffered in the past due to reported surliness on the part of native hotel help, recent reports indicate this is a thing of the past. Nassau/Paradise Island is friendly and scenic, abounding in tropical beaches with land and water sports aplenty. Dollar for dollar, the area is a good bet when you consider that you can fly there for little more than a trip to Florida. The big disadvantage is the frequent unpredictability of the Bahama winter climate.
Hotels: On Nassau, the Ambassador Beach, $27.50-$32.50 (plus $16 MAP); On Paradise Island, the Britannia Beach, $30- $37 (plus $27.50 MAP). In Freeport, Bahama Princess, $18- $22 (plus $18 MAP); Princess Towers, $22- $26 (plus $18 MAP).
Dominican Republic: The country offers many attractions of cultural and historic interest, as well as beautiful beaches and lush mountain scenery. It boasts the oldest street in the New World, the oldest university, plus cock fights, polo, and other activities.
The only gambling is in Santo Domingo, which has an urban atmosphere. Casinos in the Embajador and Jaragua Hotels are large and lavish, popular with tourists and often crowded.There are no slot machines to feed methodically while you wait for a gaming table. The Naco Hotel, with its small casino, is not recommended for non-Spanish speaking people.
Casino Hotels: Embajador, $14- $18 (plus $15 MAP); Jaragua, $15- $19 (plus $16 MAP); Naco, $13. Add 15 percent tax. Rates per person, double occupancy.
Haiti: This is a land of superstition and voodoo, and the American tourist is frequently repelled by the rampant poverty and neglect. Though the adventuresome will find excitement exploring, many tourists will feel more comfortable in the confines of their hotel grounds.
In past years, the single casino (Casino d'Haiti) was a shoddy spot with torn cloth on the tables and a shantytown atmosphere, but in the recent effort to promote tourism the Royal Haitian has opened a massive casino that may set the standard for more to come. Haiti has an added attraction of offering Americans a 48-hour divorce package, which is of more interest to many than a mere evening of blackjack or roulette.
Casino Hotel: Royal Haitian, $15- $25 (plus $15 MAP). Add 15 percent tax. Per person, double occupancy.
Puerto Rico: If there is a Las Vegas of the Caribbean, it is Puerto Rico. Literally studded with a conglomeration of high-rise beachfront hotels, San Juan boasts a variety of casinos and a swinging night-life atmosphere unequalled in pace or scope in any other gambling spot of the Caribbean. Casinos in PR are government operated and controlled, thus highly regulated. Twenty-one is the minimum gambling age and it is strongly enforced. The atmosphere is formal with gentlemen in coats and ties, ladies usually in glittering splendor with low-cut gowns high lighting their sunburn strap marks. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed in the casinos, but there is always a nightclub and/or disco a few steps away, where you can assuage your losses or celebrate your winnings.
Casino Hotels: Most major hotels in San Juan have a casino, and prices range from $21- $29 EP, with a $19- $20 MAP tab. Two luxury resorts with casinos outside of San Juan are the Cerromar and Dorado Beach, ranging from $27- $39, featuring four lush golf courses.
St. Maarten/St. Martin: The island with the split personality. You go to the French side if you want Parisien cuisine, a less touristy atmosphere and a nude beach; you go to the Dutch side if you want to gamble. Little Bay and Great Bay are the more typically Caribbean resorts, nestled beachside with the town an easy walk away. The Concord is reported to have mediocre food and frequently poor service, but it caters to low-rate package tours. Mullet Bay is a sprawling complex of condominiums, hotel rooms, a golf course and nine restaurants. The place is so large they employ jitneys to take guests from room to beach to golf course and back.
The casinos are open evening hours only, and the minimum gambling age is 18. Night life in the hotels with casinos does center around gambling and crowds are not usual, especially at the low-minimum tables. The non-wagering French side of St. Maarten's is overflowing with international restaurants, and the island is fun to drive around for a glimpse of the gemini cultures side by side in the smallest territory in the world occupied by two sovereigns.
Casino Hotels: Great pay, $21- $25 (plus $20 MAP); Little Bay, $21.50-$27.50 (plus $20 MAP); Concord, $27- $42 (plus $20 for MAP; Mullet Bay, $25- $26 (plus $21 MAP). Rates per person, double occupancy. The British Islands
There are three Caribbean islands belonging to the United Kingdom that allow casino gambling, though none is primarily gambling-oriented.
St. Kitts: A primarily off-beat, bringing-your-own-party island with green-backed monkeys chattering in the mountains' rain forests and many intriguing inns and secluded beaches, St. Kitts recently built the first tourist-oriented "large resort," called the Royal St. Kitts. It is the only place on the island where you can gamble, and the casino is a definite highlight of this 100-room, two-beach hotel. Casino operates evening hours.
Casino Hotel; Royal St. Kitts, $20-$23.50 (plus $16 MAP). Per person, double occupancy.
Antigua: Located about three clouds southeast of St. Kitts, this beachy island contains only one gambling locale, and it is not recommended for a gambling vacation. The casino is a hapazard operation, open one day, closed the next. If you do go, find out the current gambling status from your travel agent. As a hotel the Castle Harbour is not a luxury leader, but Fodor lists it as "small but special" featuring a panoramic view of the surrounding terrain and catering to groups and package tourists.
Casino Hotel: Castle Harbour Club and Casino, $15- $25 (plus $18 MAP). Per person, double occupancy.
St. Vincent: Northernmost of the Grenadines, this volcanic island is densely mountainous with black beaches and scenic terraced fields. The atmosphere is low-key, with intimate hotels and much local flavor - a gem of an island, but no gambler's paradise. Gambling is recent and casual here, with "no hard and fast age limit," according to a spokesman from the St. Vincent Tourist Bureau. The Casino is also a restaurant, and you can buffet-and-nosh while placing your bets. Local people are permitted to gamble, which is not the norm in the Caribbean.
The closest hotel to the Valley Inn casino is the Cobblestone Inn, a former sugar warehouse on the main street of Kingstown. Although attractive and reasonable ( $15 per person MAP), it doesn't offer resort atmosphere.
Hotels: The island's casino is not in a hotel. Island rates range from $15- $44 per person, MAP. The French Islands
The French islands have a tendency to favor French tourists above their American counterparts, and you'll be a step ahead if you can parlez-vous a few words. But word has it that Lady Luck doesn't known an American in Pointe-au-Pitre from a Parisian in Brooklyn Heights, so throw those dice in English or French - your odds are the same.
Martinique and Guadeloupe: These islands, about 60 miles apart, are culturally so similar they can almost be considered as one. The French tradition is strong and permeates tourism and gambling, alike. Casinos are termed "sophisticated" in one brochure, which translates to mean there are no slot machines, and there is an "entrance fee" of 7-10 francs. Game tables include the usual blackjack, and be on your toes while gambling because dealers usually speak in French. Drinking is encouraged while gambling, and the casinos do have bars serving drinks at the gaming tables. Next to each casino is a disco.
Martinque is a lush, tropical-looking island (heavy rains in season). Before the casinos open (9 p.m.), you might want to see the historic ruins of St. Pierre, a town dramatically devastated by a volcano 77 years ago. Guadelupe's non-gambling bonus is its spectacular white-sandy beaches. Both islands boast haute cuisine dining as their main evening activity other than gambling. Food is French and Creole, dinner hour is late and long, and restaurants offer expensive French wines.
Casino Hotels: On Martinique, PLM La Bateliere, $25- $30 (plus $13 for MAP); Meridien Hotel, $28.50-$33.50 (plus $21 MAP). On Guadeloupe, the Casino de la Marina is between two hotels, the Meridien Guadeloupe, $23-$26.50 (plus $21 MAP), and Hamak Hotel, $50 with breakfast (no MAP). Rates per person, double occupancy. The Dutch Islands
Affectionately known as the ABC islands, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao are almost within sight of Venezuela, and are your southermost island gambling options. Gambling is a major part of the nightlife on all three islands. Casinos open early in the evening (about 5:30 or 6) and some open midday for the slots. You'll find a bountiful number of $2 tables and 25-cent slot machines for cautious souls, and plenty of high-bet for the less timid. Non-casino life covers all bases on these close-knit islands, just a plane hop from each other. All three islands boast minimum rainfall, tradewinds that range from pleasant hair-riffling to stinging sand and overturned beach chairs, and a refreshing lack of poverty areas.
Aruba: This island is known for its beautiful beaches and unusual terrain; its countryside is barren and desert-like, with prickly cactus, giant boulders and the striking divi-divi trees, while its north shore is a rocky cliff descending into a turbulent surf, much like the coast of Maine. There's some interesting dining in the capital of Oranjestad, and good shopping, but most of the activity for visitors centers on the hotels and beaches.
Casino Hotels: Americana, $19- $30 (plus $24 MAP); Aruba-Sheraton $18- $60 (plus $24 MAP); Aruba-Concorde, $24.50- $31 (plus $20 MAP); Aruba-Caribbean $19- $31 (plus $33 MAP). Rates per person, double occupancy.
Bonaire: The getaway island of the three, Bonaire is sparse on tourists, big on scuba diving (it's considered by many as one of the top three scuba havens in the world). Exotic birds populate its crannies with flamingo colonies, parrots, and a great profusion of brilliantly-hued winged specimen.
Casino Hotel: Hotel Bonaire, $28- $32 (plus $15 MAP, per person double occupancy.
Curacao: This is the shoppers' paradise, offering a bonanza of common and offbeat goodies with no duty or low duty. It also boasts the most attractive of the Dutch island cities, the charming, multicolored capital of Willemstad. Among other attractions is the Curacao liqueur factory, offering tours and free samples, and Queen Emma, the largest pontoon bridge in the world. The island boasts 38 beaches, but in general they're not as fine as Aruba's sugar-white offerings.
Casino Hotels: Curacao Hilton, $23-$29.50 (plus $20 MAP); Curacao Plaza, $21.50-$26.50 (plus $18 MAP); Holiday Beach, $19-123 (plus $19 MAP); Princess Isles, $15- $19 (plus $17 MAP). Rates per person, double occupancy. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By Robert Barkin - The Washington Post