At one point in history, the gambling destinations of Northern Nevada–Reno, Lake Tahoe and even smaller locations like Elko and Carson City–had a very unique character and casino culture to match. The ‘wide open’ casino gambling was available just like Las Vegas but the entire area had a different vibe. It was a strange mishmash of vacationing skiers in Lake Tahoe and wild west holdovers in Reno and elsewhere. Reno had always had a difficult time competing against Las Vegas for conventions, etc. so it did the only thing it could do by developing its unique gaming niche.

The past few years have been hard on Reno due to economic challenges, the saturation of the gaming industry–and a regulatory onslaught of the state of Nevada itself. Since Nevada’s gaming regulators now place patronage to the major casino corporations as their primary duty it’s hurt all of the smaller entities that have historically benefited from legal gambling in the state. This is vividly clear in Northern Nevada where many of the smaller businesses that were a perfect fit for the area–such as freestanding sports books like the Reno Turf Club–are no longer allowed under gaming regulations.

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The entire gambling industry in Nevada is headed for extinction. Gaming regulators have shown that their ‘mission’ is to protect the big casino companies from competition and they do it very well. At the same time, however, they have rendered themselves unable to compete with the massive changes in the world gaming marketplace. Across the world, the big growth areas are online gambling (which is offered only by legacy casino corporations under Nevada law) and greater convenience in betting options, such as the many betting kiosks available at UK sports books by illegal under Nevada regulations. There was a point where Nevada could have positioned itself as the world epicenter of casino gambling. Instead, they took the path of serving the legacy casino corporations by helping them grab a greater share of an ever-shrinking pie.

One result is the same as what has been seen in Southern Nevada–reduced competition among ‘non-casino’ venues for real money slot machine play. At one point, you’d find slot machines all over the place. Drugstores, gas stations, laundromats, bowling alleys, etc. The corporate casinos and their benefactors in the Nevada gaming oversight hierarchy has struck allowed venues for slots off that list at every opportunity. A less competitive environment always hurts the player but no one really cares about them.


  • The Airport: Same deal as exists at Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport. The slots concession at the airport is auctioned off to the highest bidder and the machines you’ll find there invariably offer the worst odds in town. It’s easy to fall prey to these machines since airport travelers are often a ‘captive audience’ but you’ll be playing into some of the most insanely low return percentages allowed in the state.
  • Certain Bars: This requires a bit more nuance than the above ‘place to avoid’. Some bars offer decent payouts on slot machines and video poker. These are typically ‘neighborhood bars’ that target local residents. More tourist-oriented bars–particularly inside casinos–are terrible places to play if you want to make money. Once again, they’ve got a captive audience.
  • Grocery Stores: You’ll find slot machines at just about every major grocery store chain in Northern Nevada. They offer very low payouts and are best avoided.