Slideshow

Minnesota Casino Vacation Guide

If you play your cards right, you can have a great time at a casino without playing any cards at all.

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  • Ostrich races at Canterbury Park
  • Carrie Underwood at Mystic Amphitheater
  • Drinks at Treasure Island
  • The Meadows at Mystic Lake
  • Watch thoroughbreds such as Local Big Shot and Big Stick from the three-level Canterbury Park Grandstand.
  • Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
  • Alan Jackson at Mystic Amphitheater
  • Diamond Rio at Mystic Amphitheater
  • Bowling Alley at Treasure Island
  • Swimming at Treasure Island
  • Watch the Upper Sioux dance at Prairie's Edge Casino
  • Swim at Shooting Star Casino
  • Casino at Prairie's Edge
  • Canterbury Card Club at Canterbury Park

KENNY ROGERS WAS WRONG: You don’t need to know when to hold ’em or when to fold ’em. You can have an aces-high vacation at one of Minnesota’s many casinos even if you don’t know doubling down from a double espresso.

SEE A SHOW

Performers such as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley helped make Las Vegas what it is today, and great shows have always been a major part of the draw for Minnesota casinos as well. This summer’s slate is a mother lode for fans of hard rock, with ZZ Top and 3 Doors Down performing on July 29 at Grand Casino Hinckley, and Kid Rock appearing on July 15 at Mystic Lake’s massive outdoor amphitheater. After a stellar debut in 2011, the 6,300-seat venue will host a half-dozen shows this year, including ventriloquist/comic Jeff Dunham on Aug. 3. Mystic’s year-round indoor showroom features magicians Penn & Teller on June 15. Treasure Island will also play host to Chicago on June 30.

HAVE A BITE

They’ll be miffed if they catch you counting cards at the gaming tables, but nobody counts calories at the restaurant tables. Casino buffets offer a plentiful array of inexpensive snacks, and they’re a great place to socialize, says Judy Peterson, a regular visitor to the Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake. Peterson likes to play the penny slots, but her husband, Elwyn, is less interested in gaming and more interested in being a social butterfly. “He loves to visit!” she laughs.

Even if your appetite tends toward fancier fare, you won’t go hungry. Grand Casino’s Hinckley and Mille Lacs steak houses boast a four-course chef’s tour with a changing weekly menu, and Hinckley has a variety of wine flights. The jewel in Mystic Lake’s recent top-to-bottom renovation is its swanky new Mystic Steakhouse, where mouthwatering slabs of beef await. Meanwhile, it’s hard to beat the view on Treasure Island’s Spirit of the Water cruise ship, which takes guests on a two-hour sightseeing trip down the Mississippi River—a true moveable feast, which was on the river in May this year. “Mother Nature has helped with no flooding,” says casino spokeswoman Cindy Taube.

HORSE AROUND

You have to be 18 to be on the gaming floor in Minnesota, but that doesn’t mean casinos are ignoring entertainment for the younger set. In fact, at Shakopee’s Canterbury Park, where live horse racing is the real appeal, kids and families are one of the cornerstones of its business. “Families will come out here all day and eat and drink and watch the horses and not wager,” says Canterbury’s John Groen. “Racing appeals to a wide range of people who can enjoy it on different levels.” While the sport of kings draws plenty of bettors, it’s fundamentally a sporting event. A day at the races feels a lot like a day at the ballpark, from the amazing athletes (four-hooved, in this case) to goofier sideshows such as hot dog–eating contests and kid-friendly events every Sunday, including a petting zoo and pony rides.

At Mystic Lake, the casino is focused on the grownups, but next door, kids and adults alike can play at the affiliated Dakotah Sport & Fitness center, which features bowling, climbing walls, and two ice arenas.

Prairie’s Edge Casino near Granite Falls makes a point of sponsoring family-friendly events that go well beyond its core business. This summer’s lineup includes the Upper Sioux Community’s Wacipi Powwow Event Aug. 3–5, the Western Fest rodeo June 22–24, and the largest fireworks display in southwestern Minnesota on July 3.

RELAX AT THE SPA

You might daydream about breaking the bank and walking away with a cool million, but think about the downside. What color should your new Ferrari be? So many choices! So much stress! Take a step back and calm yourself with a relaxing trip to the spa. Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen offers full-service luxury at its Sereniitee Spa and a ticket to romance with a couple’s retreat package that includes a Jacuzzi suite, champagne, and his-and-hers massages. Mystic Lake features a panoply of massages, facials, waxing, and a range of decadent body wraps. Try Moroccan mud, green coffee, or a zesty pineapple/papaya concoction.

HIT THE LINKS

Twenty-one is the magic number when you’re playing blackjack, but for golfers, “Fore!” is a sweeter sound. Whether you aim to be the next Tiger Woods or you just like puttering around with your putter, there’s no shortage of outstanding casino courses around the state. Pride of place goes to The Meadows at Mystic Lake, a par-72 championship-level fairway that’s won national acclaim from both Golfweek and Golf Digest magazines.

South of Red Wing in Frontenac, Treasure Island’s lovely Mount Frontenac offers an 18-hole course with dazzling views of the Mississippi River bluffs alongside Lake Pepin. Not to be outdone, Grand Casino Hinckley boasts the splendid 18-hole Grand National Golf Course, designed by the renowned Joel Goldstrand, right next door. All three courses offer special stay-and-play packages at their adjoining casino hotels.

GET AWAY

Casinos tend to sweeten the deal when it comes to room rates and luxury packages as a way to entice you into their real moneymaking rooms—the ones where the tables are covered in green felt. A wise and frugal traveler can score big by using the resort as a staging point for other nearby attractions. Karyn van Erem, a technical writer from Blaine, has been hitting the jackpot that way for years when she and her husband visit Black Bear Casino near Duluth. Both Grand Casino locations are conveniently located near several of the state’s finest parks—Banning and St. Croix by Hinckley, and Kathio by Mille Lacs. It’s a great way to enjoy nature without sacrificing comfort, van Erem says—especially in winter, when snowshoeing in pristine arctic conditions is a lot more fun than camping in them. Plus, she says, the hotel staff is friendly and easygoing, and there’s no unwelcome cajoling to push her into hitting the blackjack tables.

LOCAL CASINOS


Black Bear Casino Resort
Carlton, MN
888-771-0777

Canterbury Park Racetrack & Card Casino
Shakopee, MN
952-445-7223

Diamond Jo Casino
Northwood, IA
877-323-5566

Fond-du-Luth Casino
Duluth, MN
800-873-0280

Fortune Bay Resort Casino
Tower, MN
800-992-7529

Grand Casino Hinckley
Hinckley, MN
800-472-6321

Grand Casino Mille Lacs
Onamia, MN
800-626-5825

Grand Portage Lodge & Casino
Grand Portage, MN
800-543-1384

Isle Casino Hotel
Bettendorf, IA
800-843-4753

Isle Casino Hotel
Waterloo, IA
800-843-4753

Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel
Morton, MN
800-946-2274

Lac Courte Oreilles Casino, Lodge & Convention Center
Hayward, WI
800-526-2274

Lady Luck Casino Marquette
Marquette, IA
800-496-8238

Little Six Casino
Prior Lake, MN
800-262-7799

Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel
Tama, IA
800-728-4263

Mystic Lake Casino
Prior Lake, MN
800-262-7799

Northern Lights Casino, Hotel & Event Center
Walker, MN
877-544-4879

Palace Casino, Bingo & Hotel
Cass Lake, MN
877-972-5223

Potawatomi Bingo Casino
Milwaukee, WI
800-729-7244

Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort
Granite Falls, MN
866-293-2121

Rhythm City Casino
Davenport, IA
800-262-8711

Running Aces Harness Park
Columbus, MN
651-925-4600

Seven Clans Casino & Hotel Red Lake
Red Lake, MN
888-679-2501

Seven Clans Casino, Hotel & Indoor Water Park Thief River Falls
Thief River Falls, MN
800-881-0712

Seven Clans Casino Warroad
Warroad, MN
800-815-8293

Shooting Star Casino, Hotel & Event Center
Mahnomen, MN
800-453-7827

St. Croix Casino Turtle Lake
Turtle Lake, WI
800-846-8946

Treasure Island Resort & Casino
Red Wing, MN
800-222-7077

White Oak Casino
Deer River, MN
800-653-2412

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