Things To Bring On Airplane To Entertain 5 Year Old Laughlin, Nevada is Known As the UnVegas

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Laughlin, Nevada is Known As the UnVegas

Do you remember the story about the Native Americans who sold Manhattan for small change? The former owners of a small eight-room motel on the banks of the Colorado River must have the same sinking feeling.

Not that these motel owners were short-changed by visionary Don Laughlin—it’s just that now, four decades later, Laughlin has parlayed a $235,000 investment into a sprawling resort empire that has so far attracted eight more casino/hotels to his a small section. from Colorado. Meanwhile, Laughlin pumped millions in casino profits back into such community projects as a bridge to Arizona and an airport capable of landing 737s.

Who could blame people if they named a city after him too?

Laughlin had made a few bucks selling a gambling club in Las Vegas, and as he flew over what is now Laughlin, Nevada, the soon-to-be resort magnate looked down and saw a stretch of river nestled between two sets of rocky mountains. The river is also the dividing line between Nevada and Arizona, and California is just a few miles down the road.

“If we build it, they will come. Not Don Laughlin’s words, but no doubt his feelings as he looked into his unusually reliable crystal ball and foresaw the development of another Las Vegas just about an hour’s drive south of the real one. In 1966, he opened the Riverside Casino with 12 slot machines and two gaming tables. There were only four rooms available as the Laughlin family lived in the other four rooms.

Fast forward to the Riverside Casino which has grown over the years to over 1,400 rooms including two towers, various casinos and many extras that make this property a favorite for Laughlin visitors. Plenty of other big names have now staked their claim along the Colorado, including Flamingo, Golden Nugget and Harrahs. There are now 10,000 rooms and 60 restaurants serving the more than 5 million visitors who come to Laughlin each year.

The best way to explain why people come to Laughlin is to look at the demographics of the city’s visitors. For starters, they’re a bit older—about two-thirds of them are 50 or older, and about a third are 65 or older. They spend an average of $33 a night in Laughlin, but spend more than $400 on gambling during their two- or three-day stay in town.

In short, people who come to Laughlin would rather spend money on gambling than luxury hotel rooms, and chances are they’re also more than a little phobic about the traffic and parking problems they think they might encounter in Las Vegas. As one hotel marketing person told us, many visitors really think of Laughlin as Old Las Vegas — the one that was more focused on providing cheap beds and cheap food, but plenty of gambling opportunities. Another phrase we heard was “un-Vegas,” which will take visitors back to a simpler time and place that’s easier on the wallet.

Judging by our recent visit to Laughlin, it seems the niche is still working, despite the current increased competition from Indian casinos, which has siphoned off some visitors from California, who may now be content to stay and play at a casino closer to home. But Laughlin still draws them very well from several parts of California and from many other places around the country, including destinations in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Three different airlines now provide charter service to Laughlin from dozens of destinations.

The weather was great during our November visit – mid 70s, sunny, cloudless skies. In fact, winter is the best time to visit Laughlin, as locals will tell you that summer can be 10 degrees warmer than already toasty Las Vegas.

With the consistently warm weather, another factor comes into play at Laughlin: The River. We read somewhere that it’s the only part of Nevada that really has that much water to play in, and judging by the many ski lifts and speedboats in Colorado, we wouldn’t be surprised. The hotels showcase the river as well as some well-known entertainers – almost all have boat docks and shuttle boats for guests to wade across the river, and there are also rides on replica sternwheels and even high-speed riverboats.

In fact, a river walk in Laughlin is not unlike a river walk in New Orleans – the Colorado is a bit narrower than the Mississippi at this point, but a festive boardwalk with restaurants and shops along the way can be just as fun. And of course, Laughlin has a number of casinos, while New Orleans only has one in the waterfront area.

Laughlin doesn’t really have Las Vegas quality entertainment. The city has high quality and current acts, including many of the top country music entertainers on today’s charts. But you’ll also likely see someone who’s already peaked, maybe a few years ago. While we were there, current and upcoming attractions included names like Vicki Lawrence, Charo, Mel Tillis, Roy Clark and a special “Where are they now” show at Edgewater with several former child stars like Paul Peterson (Donna Reed Show) and Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell in Leave it to Beaver).

On the plus side, entertainment in Laughlin is relatively cheap. If you went to Las Vegas and passed on the entertainment just because it was too expensive, you’ll be pleasantly surprised in Laughlin. Instead of $100 or $150 per ticket, name shows can cost as little as $25 per seat.

Most of the big name entertainment comes to Riverside, which was our base of operations in Laughlin. We couldn’t help but get the feeling that Don Laughlin had trained his staff to focus on customer service with the little plastic signs in our guest room that read, “The customer is always king.” There are odd signs throughout the Riverside complex that Riverside is a work in progress. There are 34 bowling lanes and an adjacent kiddie castle that lets you drop off your kids for $6.50 an hour. The “Loser’s Lounge” has pictures of famous losers on the walls. There is an amazing antique car museum. Oh, and of course don’t miss Watch Man, a place where you can find thousands of watches with thousands of designs, including a few with Jesus Christ on the dial. There is something for everyone at Riverside.

There also doesn’t seem to be a lot of sin in this version of Sin City – no one handing out flyers, no over-the-top billboards or signs, no real focus on girl shows except for one “Showgirls” revue. in one of the hotels. You get the feeling that many of the visitors here might be some of those voters who care about moral values, and one guesses that whatever happens in Laughlin certainly doesn’t stay in Laughlin.

It was enhanced by our chance encounter with some favorite relatives from Hemet, CA who were visiting Laughlin at the same time as us and also staying in Riverside. We know them as church-going, God-fearing people, and they were in town for four days of what they consider to be good, clean fun.

Somehow, we think that’s exactly what Don Laughlin had in mind when he first saw that little eight-room motel on the banks of the Colorado River.

AT THE FIRST SIGHT

WHERE: Laughlin is at the southern tip of Nevada and about a five or six hour drive from many places in Southern California.

WHAT: Laughlin is a trip back in time to Las Vegas 40 years ago. The Strip of Nine Casinos is largely walkable along the boardwalk along the Colorado River.

WHEN: Anytime of the year, although summers can be very hot. The best option is to visit in the winter, when temperatures are in the 70s and the sun often shines.

WHY: Laughlin is a good place to visit if you’re tired of or worried about Las Vegas crowds, lines, traffic and prices. However, if you compare Laughlin to Las Vegas, the experience is decidedly more subdued.

HOW: Accommodations at the Riverside and other Laughlin hotels are quite reasonable. For more information about Riverside or vacation packages, call 1-800-227-3849 or visit riversideresort.com. For more information about Laughlin, call 1-800-4-laughlin. Or visit the Laughlin Visitors Bureau website at visitlaughlin.com.

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