The roll of reunion luck by Jeff Perso

More and more reunions are organizing around themes. And while some luck is always needed to make a reunion successful, the importance of luck never becomes more apparent than when gambling is the reunion theme.

If you include gambling in your reunion activities, you can benefit from an increasingly competitive environment. Casinos are becoming creative about potential sources of revenue beyond gambling. They include family attractions, high-end shops, quality dining and even meetings as well as shows, revues and area natural attractions. Reunions have many choices.

John David O’Hara, Richmond, Virginia, has been involved in organizing the reunion of his LST 5, World War II buddies for nine years. They’ve met all over the US and gambling has been an important ingredient. Gambling-themed reunions included trips to the horse track in Williamsburg, Virginia, and just last year, an extended stay in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “Some of us like to gamble,” he said. “We like to play the slots and go to the track.” In Atlantic City, he said, “the slot machines were a big attraction.”

A dozen casinos are located on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Midweek reunions are particularly popular as are sports events, museums and theme restaurants.

Ken Crosby, Norfolk, Virginia, says his former USS Toledo shipmates find gambling “gives people something to do. We don’t want to invite people someplace and then find there’s nothing to get them out of the hotel room.” In addition to gambling, Crosby says that holding a reunion in a casino town allows participants to enjoy shows and revues. Last year the USS Toledo reunion met in Las Vegas where they also enjoyed the Smothers Brothers show. They stayed at the Ramada Express, a hotel with a train theme. Crosby said, rates in Las Vegas are as affordable as any city in the US. “And that’s important,” he emphasized. “We always look for the best bang for our buck.”

Theme resorts broaden the appeal and are part of Las Vegas’s image. At Circus Circus there’s a genuine circus arena with trapeze artists, acrobats, jugglers and clowns. Excalibur features an Arthurian style resort with magicians, jugglers and singers giving impromptu performances and a Medieval Village shopping arcade. The Luxor has its own IMAX 3D theater.

If Las Vegas is a little overwhelming, Nevada has much to offer. Reno, the “Biggest Little City,” has big-name entertainment, attractions and Western-style hospitality. Reno is a good value for reunions with tighter budgets. There are also day trips to Virginia City, historic silver mining capital of the West, the surrounding Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe.

With interest in gambling on the rise nation-wide, numerous cities can be considered as potential reunions sites. After Nevada and Atlantic City, Biloxi, Mississippi, is now the nation’s third largest gambling center. Located on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, Biloxi tries hard to be a family-friendly gambling destination. The proximity to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport make the area a natural magnet for military reunions, such as the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association National Reunion.

All the Las Vegas-style shows and revues make it difficult to believe that gambling was only legalized five short years ago in Mississippi. Now Biloxi’s 26-mile coastline boasts twelve glittering casinos – five more slated to open this year – and over 10,000 hotel rooms. And they need them. The region is gaining on both Atlantic City and Las Vegas as a gambling mecca.

According to a study commissioned by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, the number of people enjoying the area’s offerings is on a steady increase, rising from nearly 1.5 million visitors in 1992 to 6.5 million in 1996. While not everyone hits gambling tables or slots, the survey showed that 40% of visitors entered casinos and 38% came specifically to gamble.

If big cities aren’t your thing, Biloxi isn’t the only place to satisfy your gambling urge. The small Gulf Coast town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, nestles quietly between Pascagoula, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana. gambling in Mississippi is legal only on water so the harbors and docks of Bay St. Louis are a natural home to floating casinos. Bay St. Louis also offers relative peace and quiet.

Like Mississippi, Missouri also requires casinos to be on water. Boats don’t necessary go anywhere. Many are simply tied up at easily accessible docks. Visitors to St. Louis, Missouri, can try their luck at three casinos on the Mississippi River and three on the Missouri River. If you want to cruise while gambling, however, across the water in East St. Louis and Alton, Illinois, the Alton Belle runs up and down the river several times each day.

Across the state, on the Missouri River, five dockside casinos are located within five miles of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, a town that is said to have the loosest slot machines, offering the highest payback, in the country.

The odds are high that gambling may work for your reunion. With a little luck, you can bet on it.

About the author
Jeff Perso, former assistant editor of Reunions magazine, lives and works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.