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Travelers are flocking to Australia to do more than pet a kangaroo or snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Apparently the majority of tourists are going Down Under to scream "Winner, winner, Chicken Dinner!" Yeah, we're talking about placing big bets.
Gambling and casinos are legal in Australia and the pastime has become part of the fabric of the culture. Think of it as a smaller-scaled Vegas, but an entire country. Just like their counterparts in the US desert, many casinos in Oz are mega-resorts that attract the entire family, but with areas dedicated to high-rollers wanting more than the thrill of winning (or losing).
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You step off a plane and into the terminal, to the smell of fresh-baked Auntie Anne's pretzels and the bing-bing-bing sounds of slot machines. Where are youLas Vegas, right? If it's a few years from now, that answer could be Chicago-O'Hare instead. The Illinois House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday (yes, they were working on Memorial Day!) to bring casinos to Chicago. The idea is for the casinos to open not just anywhere in Chicago, but in heavily touristed places like the lakefront and both O'Hare and Midway Airports.
Guess who's totally down with the new casinos plan? Chicago's fresh-faced mayor Rahm Emanuel, who supports the development of gambling establishments within Chi-city limits for the all-American goals of job creation and raking in more moolah. How much more moolah will Chicago casinos bring in to the state, exactly? Oh, just a billion dollars a year. Maybe they'll even take some of those zeros and make O'Hare less of a giant suckfest.
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Little known fact about Las Vegas's McCarran Airport: it was founded by George Crockett, a descendant of Davy Crockett, who originally named it Alamo Airport in his ancestor's honor. Other little known fact about LAS: it's the only airport where we've ever seen someone get turned away at the gate for being too drunk to board a planeand that's happened twice.
Drinking is as much a part of the modern commercial aviation experience as ignoring the flight attendant's safety instructions, because your only job as a passenger is to get to your seat and pass out. Imagine being too drunk for that. In the morning.
So naturally we were thrilled to learn that they're opening liquor stores on the premises, adding to the elegant ethos already provided by the 1,000+ slot machines scattered around the terminals. It's a little weird to think of gambling in an airport when there are casinos within a couple minutes' drive. But we suppose that there's always one more quarter that could be left behind, since the money you bring to Vegas stays in Vegas.
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Forget Dubai. Even forget Las Vegas. The place that all the clubs and hotels and tourists in the mood to spend big money want to be is Macau. We've been and loved it; the former Portuguese colony tucked under China is only a hour's hydrofoil ride from Hong Kong, and since gambling has been legal these since the 1850s, it's got a fully developed reputation as a destination for good times. This continues to today, as the Playboy Club Macao is due to open atop the Sands Resort on Saturday.
It will be 12,000 square-feet of dining, entertainment and gambling, but of course all complimented by the Playboy bunnies who will be outfitted in the usual minimal costume, although specially designed with an "Asian flair" for this club.
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Miami International Airport is in a financial tight spot. For reasons beyond our understanding they chose to undertake a massive construction project, not only shoring up but expanding the airport. Above the price tag of the project itself, the airport's operating costs will almost triple over the next half-decade. Right now it costs $600 million per year to run MIA. By 2015 it will cost $1.5 billion/year.
Here's where the catch comes in. It turns out that civilian aviation is experiencing something of a slump, leaving very few ways to make up the shortfall. Airport managers hoped to ride a pro-gambling wave that's sweeping the area and add slot machines beyond the security checkpoints. Citing the airport's incompetence, plus several other concerns, Florida state regulators gave the airport a very firm NO. Local media outlets had a bit more to say, however:
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The impending arrival of warmer temperatures and sunny days on the east coast combined with the people's need to budget vacations better this summer means that previously underestimated destinations like Atlantic City may be getting some answers to their recession prayers.
Luckily for the struggling casinos and massive hotels that dot the boardwalk, the first wave of relief will arrive on June 11 when AirTran Airways begins direct service between Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and Atlantic City International twice daily. As the 59th destination for the carrier, AC will now have all kinds of options for budget airline connections, including the option to make it a blowout week by flying between Las Vegas and Atlantic City via Atlanta, if your slots finger stays sharp.
With AC desperate to funnel anyone with some jingling pocket change into their casinos, the AirTran introductory fares on this route begin at a suggestive $69 each way. Pair this with a cheap room at one of the older casinos and don't loose too many Benjamins, and you've got the cost of a vacation in Vegas beat by a couple hundred dollars. Good old AirTranalways flying to the sunniest spots with the flashiest coin.
· Airtran rolls the dice on Atlantic City [Today in the Sky]
· AirTran Airways Hits the Jackpot with New Service in Atlantic City, N.J. [FOX Business]
· New Routes Coverage [Jaunted]
This means that you can play games like slots, blackjack, roulette, baccarat and poker on mobile hand-held devices throughout the resort. Also now that March Madness is here, you can watch your bracket picks win or lose in the hotel's sportsbook all the while gambling to (hopefully) raise more funds for those sports bets.
As we mentioned this weekend, Atlantic City hasn't been breaking any attendance records lately. We have to say, there's one good reason why Vegas-on-the-turnpike has never really turned that corner from senior citizens long weekend getaway to A-list resort town: There's just no great, affordable way to get there.
But East Coasters looking for a gambling fix can kiss the Greyhound goodbye, as AC is set to finally introduce regular train service to and from New York.
The town has had train service to New York before--but never any that made a profit and stuck around. Starting February 6, the new train will offer round-trip service between New York's Penn Station and AC for the pretty reasonable price of $50 each way. First-class tickets go for $75, and the Borgata, Caesars and Harrah's will each offer shuttle service from the train stop.
It's a long-awaited upgrade for sure, but is it enough to make anyone actually go?
· By rail from NYC to Atlantic City [Detroit Free Press]
· Atlantic City in Freefall: How to Get People Gambling Again [Jaunted]
· Atlantic City Travel coverage [Jaunted]
Las Vegas has long trafficked in excess, doing a brisk business as a destination where it's standard operating procedure to blow your whole wad in a weekend. But what happens to Vegas when people don't have a wad to blow anymore? Is it still worth a visit? The answer is a resounding yes, according to USA Today, which offers a variety of tips on how to have fun in the casino resorts even if all you have in your pockets is some loose change, a bus schedule, and a flask of Early Times whiskey. In fact, Vegas will be glad to relieve you of whatever cash you happen to have left.
A few tidbits: instead of blackjack, play Pai Gow poker, an Americanized version of an old Chinese game. Most hands only cost $10, and often result in a "push," in which you get to keep what you wagered, extending your time at the table even if you will eventually lose it all to the dealer. And there's no need to blow a few hundred bucks on tickets for one of the endless incarnations of the Cirque du Soleil franchise when free entertainment abounds on the Strip. The fountains at the Bellagio are a good bet, with dramatic water shows set to music every day that are visible from the sidewalk. Not to be outdone, the Mirage gets a new volcano on Monday, with flames that do a five-minute dance for free. And of course it doesn't cost anything to walk through the various casino resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard, but it takes some serious will power not to indulge in any of the sybaritic pleasures on display.
My personal suggestion for a good time in Vegas that won't cost a dime: a hike through Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area. Just watch out for those scruffy wild burros. They'll hurt your feelings.
[Photo: USA Today]
It seems like only yesterday that communities across the United States were clamoring for casinos, anxious for the boost in employment and tax revenue that they seemed to promise. Today, it's a different story. In the latest case of NIMBY (not in my backyard), state and city officials are pushing for a 3,000-slot-machine casino to be built at the edge of Philadelphia's small but vibrant Chinatown area, a move that has many residents hopping mad. The developers of Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia say that the project would revitalize a long-neglected area a half block south of Chinatown, helping rather than hurting local businesses. Opponents of the casino, however, fear that having a gambling den so close to home would exacerbate the problem of compulsive gambling, which has caused great damage in the Asian-American community in recent years. The Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, for example, estimated that nearly a third of its 40,000 daily customers were Asian, a far higher ratio than seen in the general population. We're not opposed to casinos on moral grounds - people are free to do dumb things with their money if they like - but we do feel like they put up a bit of a false front. Take any casino in Atlantic City, for example. Based on the advertisements, you'd expect to see James Bond wearing a tuxedo and playing baccarat. What you get instead are obese guys wearing sweatpants and oxygen tank-toting grannies on Rascal scooters feeding quarters into slot machines until their eyes glaze over. It's not a pretty picture. But things aren't looking good for Chinatown, as the City Council recently dedicated the area an entertainment district, paving the way for construction to begin. Until it's built, though, residents can always gamble away their life savings in the stock market.
While the world has been wrapped up in Obamamania for the last couple of days, there's other election news worth talking about from a travel perspective.
One issue that has been showing up increasingly on ballots is gambling. See, when state lawmakers face the tough decision of whether or not to save their budgets by allowing casinos, they do what politicians do best: Decide nothing and pass the issue on to voters in the form of referendums.
So Election Day has lately become Christmas morning for the gambling industry. This year, the gambling forces found little luck at the polls, with voters rejecting proposed casinos in Maine, Ohio and even Guam. The only victory for gambling was in Maryland, where voters gave the OK to slot machines at five locations around the state.
· Md. Voters Give OK to 15,000 Slots [Baltimore Sun]
· Western Maine Casino Proposal Shot Down by Voters [Forbes]
· Casino Bet Fails [Toledo Blade]
· Guam Voters Reject Casino Gambling [Pacific Magazine]
· Travel Referendums coverage [Jaunted]
The three-year old Quarter at the Tropicana is one of Atlantic City's two Las Vegas-style shopping complexes. (The Pier Shops at Caesars is the other.) The stores include some A-list franchises--Brooks Brothers, Swarovski and a nearly-open Brookstone--along with some awesomely left field shopping spaces like the Old Farmer's Almanac General Store and a branch of New York City's Spy Shop.
But that's beside the point. From what we've seen, it's definitely the best place to eat and get drunk in Atlantic City. A ritzy food court has franchises of New York's Palm steakhouse and Carmine's, Philadelphia's Cuba Libre restaurant and several others, including a Jeffrey Chodorow Russian-themed restobar with suspiciously little Russian food on the menu.