If you’re a gambler living in Georgia, your choices are a few hours on a plane to the gaming meccas in Las Vegas, Biloxi, Atlantic City or Tunica or a few hours in the car to North Carolina or Alabama.
Yes, there plenty of other places to go, since 18 states currently allow commercial casinos and 30 states offer legalized gambling (either commercial or tribal). If and when casino gambling is regulated in Georgia, it will still be a couple of years of planning and construction before locals can slip a $20 bill into a Wheel of Fortune slot or bet it all on red.
In the meantime, if you need a quick fix, gas up the car and check out these four casinos that are all in reasonable driving distance from Atlanta.
In 2012, the casino resort nestled in the Smoky Mountains completed a $650 million expansion. In addition to the approximately 4,000 Las Vegas-styled slot machines and video poker (a non-smoking gaming area is available), Harrah’s Cherokee boasts more than 150 table games, a 3,000-seat Event Center (drawing acts ranging from Chris Rock to Alice Cooper), three hotel towers with more than 1,100 rooms, a world-renowned poker room and the ritzy Mandara Spa.
Expansion at the property continues. A “Multi-tainment Center” sporting 24 bowling lanes, an arcade and full service dining opened in September 2017. A new project with a 2020 opening will include 100,000 square feet of convention meeting space, a fourth hotel tower with 600-800 rooms and a new parking deck, which will solidify the Harrah’s Cherokee’s standing as the largest hotel resort in North Carolina.
Eat: Chefs Stage Buffet; Ruth’s Chris Steak House; Noodle Bar; Brio Tuscan Grille; Selu Garden Café; Lobby Café; food court featuring Earl of Sandwich, Johnny Rockets; Pizzeria Uno Express; and Dunkin’ Donuts Express.
Distance from Atlanta: 155 miles
Info: 777 Casino Drive, Cherokee, N.C. 828-497-7777, www.harrahscherokee.com
The sister property to Harrah’s Cherokee is a slightly closer drive for Atlanta gamblers and an ideal day trip, although it is smaller, with about 1,050 slot machines and 70 table games (a few rows of machines are designated as non-smoking). Like Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino, the $110 million Valley River is also owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and operated by Caesars Entertainment. Valley River opened in September 2015 and rotated 1.1 million people through its doors the first year of business. Continued expansion is the norm here, too, as the casino will add a full-service restaurant in 2018 as well as room service for the 300-room adjoining hotel.
Eat: A market offering Nathan’s, Earl of Sandwich, Starbucks, Panda Express and Papa John’s Pizza.
Distance from Atlanta: 122 miles
Info: 777 Casino Parkway, Murphy, N.C. 828-422-7777, www.caesars.com/harrahs-cherokee-valley-river.
Wind Creek Wetumpka
Open since 2013, the Wetumpka branch of the Wind Creek casinos is, like its other properties, owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The 85,000-square-foot gaming space includes more than 2,500 slot machines (Alabama gaming laws prohibit live table games), a non-smoking gaming area and its centerpiece attraction – a 16,000-gallon shark tank at the center bar. The adjoining hotel includes more than 280 rooms (and 24-hour room service). The casino also provides guests with live music – sometimes from local bar bands, other times from big names such as Patti LaBelle.
Eat: Fire Steakhouse; Grill; Grill To Go; Buffet; Chilly Bean.
Distance from Atlanta: 167 miles
Info: 100 River Oaks Drive, Wetumpka, Ala. 1-866-946-3360, windcreekwetumpka.com
Wind Creek Montgomery
An expansion of the property came in 2015, and it was all about blues legend B.B. King. The 65,000-square-foot gaming floor offering 2,200 games (including a non-smoking game room) is also joined by B.B. King’s Blues Club and the 24-hour Lucille’s Eatery. A recently opened hotel includes 123 guest rooms, an events center and a full-service salon.
Eat: B.B. King’s Blues Club; Itta Bena; Lucille’s Eatery.
Distance from Atlanta: 168 miles
Info: 1801 Eddie L Tullis Road, Montgomery, Ala. 1-866-946-3360, windcreekmontgomery.com