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Senior Highlights....



Senior travelers know gambling vacations are a good bet for fun on the road. Combine varied destinations and resorts with gaming fun, good food, and great prices, and you have all of the ingredients for a casino caper.

U.S. casinos and gambling vacations have come a long way since early American settlers in the mid-1600s found Iroquois Indians and other North American tribes playing a dice game with stones. Even earlier, Columbus's men were credited with bringing the first playing cards to the New World in 1492. Later, founding fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were avid gamblers.

New Orleans became the early U.S. capital of gaming, with more than 400 gaming halls and riverboats in the 1800s. Next, California's Gold Rush led to western-style gambling, with San Francisco, Reno, and Los Angeles leading the way. In the 1940s, Bugsy Siegal's vision transformed Las Vegas and gambling vacations in the U.S.

More than 50 years later, Las Vegas is going strong. But many other states and locales now offers a wide range of gambling opportunities. That means there's plenty of options to pursue your U.S. casino caper.

The best place to spend your first money isn't at a slot machine. It's at the bookstore or with a phone call. The American Casino Guide (currently $12.95) is the best investment you can make in your casino vacation. Buy it before you buy your airline ticket, make your hotel reservation, or place your first bet.

Updated annually and published by Florida-based Casino Vacations (954/989-2766), this comprehensive book is the best guide to the wide variety of casinos in America. "This guide was written to help you plan your visit to casino gambling areas and also to help you save money once you are there," says author Steve Bourie

The first edition of this guide was an eight-page newsletter, but it has grown to more than 180 pages, as casino gambling has spread throughout the country. The book lists comprehensive information on all of the states, casinos, resorts, and boats that offer any type of traditional casino table games or slot machines (including video lottery terminals). In addition, there are many helpful stories included about how casinos operate; how video poker and slot machines work; how to make the best plays in blackjack and craps; and how to take advantage of casino promotional programs. There's also a good index, followed by a coupon section that will save you many times the cost of the book.

Bourie makes several specific suggestions that can help you save money right away, no matter where you choose to visit. Besides listing general information about each casino, the guide covers 'fun books' and casino marketing departments that can provide additional savings and complimentary programs. He also suggests that vacationers join 'slot clubs' as a way to earn gifts, cash, food, and other complimentary possibilities.

Coupons are a great way to save no matter where you go and there's a special article by Anthony Curtis that provides specific tips about 'Couponomy.' Curtis is the publisher of Las Vegas Advisor ($45 a year), a 12-page monthly newsletter with details about good deals on Las Vegas lodging, dining, entertainment, and gambling. It can be ordered through Casino Vacations (see above). Casino Player magazine (800/394-2467) is also another excellent resource for casino-bound tourists going almost anywhere. If you're new to casinos, casino travel, and freebies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Gambling Like A Pro (MacMillan, 800/257-5755).

Of course, Las Vegas (covered this past April, contact your travel agent) still reigns as America's top gaming mecca. With the complete renovation of Fremont Street and many new resorts, Las Vegas just keeps getting better. American Casino Guide has a wide range of coverage for the city, including "Best Las Vegas Bargain," "Best Buffet," "Best Freebie," and "Best Room Rate."

The book also covers the rest of Nevada, including 32 other gambling destinations. Along with Laughlin (covered this past April, 800/4 LAUGHLIN) and Reno (800/FOR RENO), you can try Lady Luck in Nevada at places like Carson City, Jackpot, Lake Tahoe, Mesquite, and Searchlight.

But Nevada certainly doesn't have a monopoly on gambling vacations in the U.S. American Casino Guide covers 29 other states that lure visitors to their casinos, resorts, and ships. Whether you're heading around the corner or across the country, you'll find a casino.

There are currently more than 15 Indian casinos in California, with three less than 125 miles east of Los Angeles, including San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino (800/359-BINGO), Casino Morongo (800/252-4499), and Fantasy Springs Casino (800/827-2WIN). There are also three more in the San Diego area.

However, the biggest news in Southern California is the recent opening of the Radisson Crystal Park Hotel & Casino (800/333-3333), marking Los Angeles's first-ever hotel/casino property. Located just 12 miles east of Los Angeles International Airport, the deluxe 282-room complex offers a great gambling vacation right in your own backyard.

The expansive Las Vegas-style casino features an upscale friendly atmosphere to tournament players and novice and leisure visitors. "Radisson Park Hotel & Casino promises to become the gaming icon in the state of California," says Crystal Park Vice President & Casino Manager, Kenny Zeidan. The resort is owned by the company that operates Inglewood's Hollywood Park Casino (800/888-4972), known throughout poker playing circles for its exceptional comfort, clean air, fast-paced action, customer amenities, and popular tournaments.

Further afield, the book provides many more details about other gambling vacation destinations. Of course, revitalized Atlantic City (800/262 BOARDWK or 888/AC VISIT) receives lots of deserved coverage. With the city undergoing a renaissance, casino hotel rooms tripling by the end of the century, and two megaresorts opening in 1998, Atlantic City is a great place to go for an East Coast gambling deals. Known as America's Favorite Playground, Atlantic City offers gaming and entertainment at 13 casinos.

Riverboat gambling is quite popular in states like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri. There are also Indian reservations in many of these states, as well as many others, so it's always best to check with state tourism offices to see what's available.

Down in Mississippi, the grandest story is the dockside Grand Casino Tunica (800/WIN 4 WIN) in the north part of the state near Memphis, Tennessee. It's the largest casino between Las Vegas and Atlantic City and the largest gaming/resort complex in the southeast U.S. Along with the huge casino, there's also the newly-opened Grand Hotel, Kids Quest (the largest child care facility in the area), Grand Arcade for Teens, and plans for a larger hotel, golf, and an RV resort.

In Missouri, Harrah's new North Kansas City Lucky Star riverboat casino, combined with the North Star, makes Harrah's (800/HARRAHS) the largest casino in the Midwest. It's also the first and only casino operation in Greater Kansas City to offer gaming sessions every hour. Also in Kansas City, Sam's Town (800/988-0711) recently opened as the city's first land-based casino, with an early-1900s Victorian feel and three levels of gaming.

In Florida, possibilities include gaming cruises with companies like Discovery Cruise Line (800/93-SHIPS), SeaKruz (800/688 PLAY), and Palm Beach Cruise Line (800/841 7447), as well as Indian Reservations like Miami's Miccosukee Indian Gaming (800/741-4600).

Of course, coastal states like California and Florida also offer convenient ports of embarkation for cruise ships and their floating casinos. For great cruise deals, call your local travel agent or The Cruise Line Inc. (800/777-0707).

Thus, from sea to shining sea, the U.S. and its waters have great casino vacations. Whether you choose a land-based casino resort or a casino at sea, you'll enjoy your casino caper.