Beginning my overview of gambling options for Texans, I thought it best to start with the most popular destination: Louisiana.
Depending on where you live in Texas there are a few options in the Cajun State.....
This is the newest, and most popular of the Lake Charles casinos, it is also one of the best in terms of amenities. As you might know, all of the Golden Nugget casinos are part of the Landry's empire and therefore, in addition to the player's club, there is a tie-in with the Landry's Select Club which can provide some fairly decent options for room rates. (One note: be careful when booking through an e-mail offer as the 3rd party company that Landry's contracts to run these promotions will frequently book you into the wrong resort. If you do this, and get to the casino, they will not have your reservation and are totally unhelpful at booking you into another room. I know this from experience)
Gambling at the Nugget is hit-or-miss. They have a wide option of games available and the slot machines run the gamut from penny slots with a minimum spin as low as $.20 to $500 slots in the high-limit room. I've found the pay-out on these, based on a decent sample size, to be very low. Louisiana State Law requires slot machines to pay out a minimum of 80% and a maximum of 99.9%. Based on my gaming experience at the Nugget so far I'd say their slots are geared more toward the lower end of the spectrum. I would expect, after the newness of the property wears off and the crowds diminish they will have to raise these to stay competitive.
Table games are fair, with most, if not all, blackjack tables paying 3/2 on blackjack however the dealers all will hit on soft 17. I am not aware if the rules are the same in the high-limit salons but I would imagine so.
The biggest problem that I have with blackjack at the Nugget is that the table limits are set in a very narrow range and leave little room for a variety of players. In the evenings, it is very unusual to find a table with a limit below $25/hand and if you do find a $10/hand table the seats are full and people are 2-3 deep waiting to get on. $100/hand tables are not unusual to find and are usually sitting empty.
Roulette is typically $25 minimum bet as is Mini Baccarat and Pai Gow Poker. You can find a $10/hand table on the "carnival" games like 3-card poker and Ultimate Texas Hold-em. Again, the likelihood of obtaining a seat at these tables in the evenings is rare. I'm not a big craps player but I did notice that the minimums in the evening were frequently $25/hand.
If you're a weekend gambler, the above limits are very high, almost prohibitively high due to the fact that you will need at least $500-$3000 in bankroll to effectively survive the swings, depending on the level of the table. However, the dealers appear to be knowledgeable and the staff on the gaming floor and behind the bars are friendly. Drinks are complimentary when gambling and tips are recommended if you want to keep getting them.
The Nugget also has a small poker room where the games seemed to mainly consist of 4/8 Limit & either 1/2 or 2/5 no-limit Texas Hold 'Em. In my time there I never saw another poker variant offered although I'm sure they would open a table for 7-Stud, Omaha or something else if there was sufficient interest.
Because of the tie-in with Landry's dining options are fairly robust. There is a buffet, a Claim Jumper, Grotto, Saltgrass, Vic & Anthony's, Lilie's Asian, Cadillac Tequila Grill, the Country Club and a Landry's. The big night-club at this bar is the Blue Martini which is one of the funnier places to spend part of the evening as half-drunk patrons attempt to dance. The patio at Blue Martini is a great place to end the evening.
Most of the bars close at either one or two AM, with the Rush Lounge on the casino floor remaining open until about 4AM. One note, because everything off of the casino floor closes the Rush gets very, very crowded around 1:30AM. If you don't have a seat already, you're not going to get one.
There is smoking in the casino area, but the areas outside the gaming floor are 100% smoke free. The casino has a golf course, spa and fitness facility. There is also a barber shop and an arcade for the children. One of the best features of any Nugget property is the pool, and that's no exception here. The H2O Pool and Bar is one of the best places to while away the day in between gambling sessions.
L'Auberge Casino & Resort:
Originally, the property now housing the Golden Nugget was owned by a company that was purchased by the parent company of L'Auberge. After that purchase they sold the property and half-completed development, along with the last currently available gaming license in Louisiana to Landry's. The upside of this is that the Nugget and L'Auberge are basically adjacent to one-another and within easy walking distance. They are currently also working on the waterfront which will include a walkway between the two properties.
For years now the L'Auberge was positioned as the sole luxury casino in Lake Charles. It was also known for fairly lousy service, high limits and terrible payouts. They also treated their elite players fairly poorly. After all, where else were they going to go?
Today the L'Auberge is a much better property at which to play. For one, they are a LOT slower, even on Friday and Saturday evening, as the majority of customers are still excited about, and playing at, the Nugget. This has required L'Auberge to greatly improve their My Choice Loyalty Program and, even though they won't admit it, recent experience feels to me as if their slots have gotten slightly looser. It's possible that, with the new competition from the Golden Nugget they requested, and received, permission from the gaming commission to increase the payouts on their slots.
L'Auberge has a pool, complete with lazy river.
L'Auberge is a much smaller casino than is Golden Nugget but they suffer from the same lack of range in table limits. Most tables are $25-$100 in the evenings except the Carnival games which can be very crowded at $10. The rules for blackjack appear to be almost identical to those at the Nugget.
L'Auberge offers Roulette and Craps which appear to be at the same levels as GN as well. The poker room is tiny and offers the same options as you find at the Nugget as well.
For dining options L'Auberge has many options which are decent, although I highly recommend the Ember Grille and Wine Bar for late night appetizers and a rather robust wine list at decent prices. They also have a buffet, an Asian restaurant called (rather boringly) Asia, Jack Daniel's Bar and Grill and Favorites Southern Cuisine. All of the latter are remarkably low-mid range and feel out of place considering the rest of the property. Touloulou's is the deck bar and has some tempting drink options and decent snacks.
Their big club is Liquid Society and is a slightly less funny Blue Martini with the addition of a fairly healthy live-music program.
L'Auberge shares a golf course with the Nugget, and also has a spa and fitness facility. All of the gaming floor is smoking with the other areas on the property, except the outside areas, being smoke free.
(Note: While the pool areas are nice at both casinos you still have the main problem there that you are in Lake Charles. Lake Prien is not an attractive area and chances are better than average that you will be staring at some type of industrial facility. This is not the fault of the casinos, but it's just one of the downsides of Lake Charles.)
Isle of Capri:
On the other side of Lake Prien, right before you are forced to cross the incredibly rickety-looking 1-10 bridge, is the exit to one of the last original riverboat casinos, the Isle of Capri. Originally, Lake Charles gaming was the Isle and Harrah's. Two riverboat casinos that actually went out onto the lake in the evening. Over time this practiced stopped and Harrah's blew away due to a hurricane whose name escapes me. For a while Lake Charles chugged along with the Isle having two boats (and two separate casinos) and L'Auberge. Over the last couple of years the Isle close down one of their boats, and consolidated operations. The result is a smaller, but nicer, budget option for those who don't want to play at either the Nugget or L'Auberge, or for those who aren't willing to play the higher limits.
In response to the luxury properties the Isle has revamped their loyalty program making it much more rewarding than before and has also slightly improved their dining options. A few years ago they renovated their hotel tower making the rooms more modern and more in-line with how the industry is going. The tower rooms now have better mattresses, much better bathrooms and flat-screen TV's. They're also decorated in that cream and brown that all casinos and hotels use because it provides the illusion of class.
That said, the rooms at the Isle are currently cheaper than the other two main casinos in town but are still nice places to stay. For the budget traveler, or those looking for nostalgia the Inn at the Isle still offers rooms that look as if they are stuck in the 80's and low (for casinos) rates.
The gaming at the Isle is now geared almost exclusively to the budget, weekend gambler. They do have a small high-limit room on site and the stakes run from $.01 to $100. The games at the Isle seem to be fairly loose which allows you to lose more slowly when you do lose which provides for more time sitting and sucking down watered-down free drinks.
They have video poker but, as is the case in all Lake Charles casinos, I have yet to find a full-payout game anywhere on the floor.
The limits at the tables are much lower, with $10 games being the norm and $25 tables being the almost empty exceptions. They have two main gaming areas on two different floors (it's a 3 story casino) with blackjack (all tables appear to be 3/2), craps, Roulette and the 'carnival' games that you find at most every casino.
Beware: In many cases the automatic shufflers at the Isle are old and wearing out. In one two-hour session of three-card I counted 10 times that a red-light appeared nullifying the hand. On one of the hands the dealer made the error of pushing out our cards to play and did not check the light status. In what, I thought, was a fair move, the pit-boss approved paying out the pair-plus on the hands but pushed back the ante and play bets. They did, however, take the 6-card bet if anyone was playing it (I wasn't).
Lake Charles Summary:
As stated before, the problem with all of the Lake Charles casinos is simple. You are playing in Lake Charles. Outside of the casinos there is little to do and, to be honest, the preponderance of surrounding chemical plants can often create an unpleasant experience. Customer service is middling, at best, although I have seen some improvement of late. I don't recommend playing live-poker at any Lake Charles casino because there are regular, local, players there who have relationships with the dealers and make game-play unpleasant. In many cases the are almost hostile to outside players. I am constantly amazed the casinos allow this, but on almost every visit there I continually see it.
This is not to suggest the games are dirty, only that playing can be confrontational at best and insulting at worst.
Still, if you live in Houston Lake Charles is your best bet for a weekend getaway due to it's proximity to town as well as the fairly reasonable options that the three casinos present.
In the next part I'll take a look at the other casino options within an easy drive of Houston including Delta Downs and Coushatta.