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Casino Hopping in Reno

Jessica Kwong | April 26, 2017
Orange County Register

Headed from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe for a long weekend, I decided to postpone that destination and wander about Reno first.
From the skyline, the city looked little. I wondered if I was approaching the downtown, and if that was all there was to it.
Confirmation came at the intersection of Commercial Row and Virginia Street, at the Reno Arch, with “The Biggest Little City in the World” in retro lettering glitzed up with lights.

Walking through, surrounded by casinos bigger than they looked from a distance, I understood Reno’s motto. Even on the eve of New Year’s Eve, the streets were rather deserted.

I wasn’t expecting Las Vegas, so I wasn’t disappointed it paled in comparison to Sin City’s flashy, oft-remodeled and ever-expanding Strip.

Circus Circus Reno’s entrance featured Topsy the Clown, still sporting its late 1980s design. You could call it historic?

Inside, though, felt no different from Circus Circus Las Vegas. Since my last memory there was from childhood, I went straight to the arcade, called the Carnival Midway. The bright colors and tall ceiling made the room feel like a circus tent, and a stage fittingly sat at the center. There weren’t any lines for the games, a good thing, but there was enough of a crowd to create a lively atmosphere.
An ornate indoor walkway, with a horse statue fountain, created a seamless transition into the next casino.

After exploring Silver Legacy Resort Casino and Eldorado Resort, I found no walkway to the next casino and had to go outside to get to Harrah’s. The casinos began to blend together, by no means in an underwhelming way.

Just south of the downtown, across the Truckee River, I stumbled on the Midtown district, which had an eclectic mix of clothing and book stores, tattoo parlors, coffee shops and restaurants. It was funky and not a bit pretentious.

Farther south were a couple more casinos that seemed must-visits.

I started with Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, which looked like any high-end hotel from the outside. Inside, however, the casino had an underwater, aquatic atmosphere that I imagine helped make time stand still for gamblers. Napa Bistro, which serves an eclectic mix of modern tapas and fine foods, was booked solid until later that night, so I opted for Cafe Alfresco and ordered a wood-fired garlic chicken pizza.

The service was great – servers offered an abu–dance of attention and a casino worker stopped by to ask if I wanted to play a gambling game while I was dining.

The last stop in my casino-hopping adventure was the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino. The Tuscan-themed luxury hotel looked grand on the outside and was simple yet classy inside. Instead of incredibly elaborate architecture, the hotel had many LED screens taking visitors to the greatest places in the world, from tropical paradises to New York City.

Reno – especially its downtown – seemed to have a lot of potential for redevelopment, and it’s happening to a degree, with the Tesla Gigafactory supplying electric car batteries. But change being gradual doesn’t seem a bad thing: There’s an old-fashioned charm in the entertainment of the past. For those who want the perks of Vegas minus the traffic and commotion, the city on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada is perfect. 

If you go:
Reno Arch: At Commercial Row and Virginia Street
Circus Circus Reno Carnival Midway: Games and shows have been reinvented with a European feel but still have the traditional American vibe. Circus acts every 30-45 minutes. Information:
Bistro Napa at Atlantis Casino Resort Spa: Offers contemporary, Napa Valley-inspired cuisine in a lively yet comfortable setting. Social hour with half price tapas 4-6 p.m. Information:
Peppermill Resort Spa Casino: An eco-friendly luxury hotel with a Tuscan theme.