Best online casino for most U.S. players: Bovada

If you're in DE, NJ, PA, or WV, online casinos are legal in your state, and you should play at a casino licensed there.

If you're in any other U.S. state, your best bet is Bovada, not because they're good, but because everything else is even worse.  I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode where the RV salesman is telling Homer, "Simpson, you're never gonna own a finer RV.  And I don't mean that in a good way, I mean this is IT for you!"

THE GOOD ABOUT BOVADA

  1. Play the practice games without having to register an account.  Other casinos force you to register so they can market to you.  Bovada is the only U.S.-wide casino I know of that lets you play right away with no registration.  (If you see a registration box, you can cancel it and continue to the game.)  Blackjack?  One click and you're in.  And the games play right in your browser, so you don't have to download any special software.
  2. Consistent payouts.  Online gambling is mostly unregulated and if a casino refuses to pay your winnings you have little recourse.  But Bovada has always had a good reputation for paying out properly.

THE BAD ABOUT BOVADA

  1. Not licensed.  Because online gambling in most states isn't explicitly legal, no legitimate authority will license a U.S.-wide casino.  That means if you have a dispute, you have no recourse.
  2. Customer service is pretty pathetic.
  3. Phantom bets in live dealer games.  While I was watching (not playing) a live roulette game to record spin data for an article, Bovada claimed that I made two losing bets ($45 and $15) that I didn't actually make.  I complained about this, but they insisted I made those bets.  So, you probably want to steer clear of the live dealer games.

Visit Bovada


Gambling problem?

  1. Call the 800-522-4700 hotline or get online help
  2. See these horror stories.
  3. Know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.

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Gambling problem?

  1. Call the 800-522-4700 hotline or get online help
  2. See these horror stories.
  3. Know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.

Who owns which Las Vegas casinos

Last Update: May 2021


If you thought most casinos in Vegas were independently owned, think again.  All the casinos together are owned by just a handful of companies.  In fact, just two companies together own the overwhelming majority of strip properties.  So, if you have a bad experience at one casino and plan to take your business next door, there's a good chance the new casino you walk into will have the same owner!


Peak consolidation on the Strip was in 2005, when two companies owned 19 of the 29 Strip properties.  (MGM: Aria, Bellagio, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage, Monte Carlo, NY NY.  Caesars:  Bally's, Caesars Place, Cromwell, Flamingo, Harrah's, Linq/O'Sheas, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Rio, Treasure Island).


Most of the Strip

A whopping 17 of the 29 strip casinos are owned by just two companies. Bye-bye, competition!


MGM Resorts

  1. Aria
  2. Bellagio
  3. Excalibur
  4. Luxor
  5. Mandalay Bay†
  6. MGM Grand
  7. The Mirage
  8. Park MGM
  9. New York New York

The 2005 merger between MGM & Mandalay created the largest gaming company in the world at that time, with 28 properties in five states, annual revenues of $6B, and control of 40% of the slots, 44% of the table games, and 49% of the rooms (36,000 of 73,000) on the Las Vegas Strip.


Caesar's Entertainment

  1. Bally's
  2. Caesars Palace
  3. The Cromwell
  4. Flamingo
  5. Harrah's
  6. Linq / O'Sheas
  7. Paris
  8. Planet Hollywood
  9. Rio (off-strip)
  10. Harrah's (Laughlin)

The 2005 merger between Caesars & Harrah's surpassed MGM/Mandalay to create the largest gaming company in the world at the time, with 40 properties over 100,000 employees.  The merged company was initially known as Harrah's Entertainment, then in Nov. 2010 the name changed to Caesar's Entertainment Corp.


Other Strip Casinos

Phil Ruffin:  Circus Circus, Slots-a-Fun, Treasure Island

Casino Royale:  M. Elardi

Cosmopolitan: Blackstone

Encore, Wynn:  Wynn

Palazzo, Venetian: Apollo

Resorts World: Genting

Sahara: Meruelo Group

Strat:  Golden Entertainment

Tropicana: Penn National

Downtown Vegas

Boyd Gaming

  • California
  • Fremont
  • Main Street Station

Derek & Greg Stevens

TLC Enterprises

Individually-owned

Other Vegas Casinos

Arizona Charlie's: Golden Entertainment

OYO:  OYO, Highgate

Palms:  San Manuel Band

Rampart:  Larco/Hotspur

Silver Sevens: Affinity

Silverton:  Ed Roski

South Point: Michael Gaughan

Tuscany: Heers Family Trust

Virgin: Virgin

Westgate: Westgate Resorts


Boyd Gaming

  Downtown
  • California
  • Fremont
  • Main Street Station
  Locals Casinos
  • Aliante
  • Cannery
  • Eastside Cannery
  • Gold Coast
  • Orleans
  • Sam's Town
  • Suncoast
  Not in Vegas
  • Eldorado (Henderson)
  • Joker's Wild (Henderson)
  • Sam's Town Gold River (Laughlin)

Station Casinos

Red Rock Resorts is the majority owner (2019) of Station.

Vegas

  • Red Rock
  • Boulder Station
  • Palace Station
  • Santa Fe Station
  • Sunset Station
  • Texas Station

Other Nevada

  • Fiesta Henderson
  • Fiesta Rancho
  • Red Rock Casino
  • Wild Wild West
  • Wildfire
  • Green Valley Ranch
  • Barley's
  • The Greens
  • Gold Rush
  • Magic Star
  • Lake Mead
  • Renata's Casino

Other U.S.

  • Thunder Valley (Lincoln, CA)

Real estate vs. casino ownership

The list above is who operates the casino business, not who owns the real estate (land+buildings), which is not always the same company.  For example, at your local Mel's Diner, Mel owns the restaurant business, but probably rents the property from a landlord.  With casinos, usually the same company owns both the business and the real estate, but increasingly there are separate owners for the two pieces.


Many Vegas casinos started selling their real estate assets in 2017, in order to free up cash to weather recessions.  (The casino then rents the property from the new landlord.)  In light of COVID-19, that action seems downright prescient.


Here's a list of casinos where the real estate owner and casino business owner are different.  In all of these cases when the real estate was sold, the casino owner remained the same, except that Sands sold the Venetian/Palazzo real estate to one company and the casino business to another.


Real estate vs. Casino ownership
Casino Casino owner Real estate owner Sold
Venetian, Palazzo Apollo Vici Mar. 2021
Tropicana Penn National Building: Bally's
Land: Gaming & Leisure
April 2021
April 2020
Mandalay Bay MGM Resorts MGM Growth + Blackstone Jan. 2020
MGM Grand MGM Resorts MGM Growth + Blackstone Jan. 2020
Rio Caesars Entertainment Dreamscape Dec. 2019
Bellagio MGM Resorts MGM Growth + Blackstone Nov. 2019
Caesars Palace Caesars Entertainment Vici Oct. 2017
(see below)
Harrah's Las Vegas Caesars Entertainment Vici Dec. 2017
Aria MGM Resorts 50% MGM, 50% Infinity World *

*The real estate in CityCenter (including Aria, Crystals, Waldorf Astoria, Vdara, and Veer Towers) has been owned jointly by MGM Resorts and Infinity World from the beginning.  In April 2021, the joint group sold the former Harmon spot to 63SLVB.


Ownership timeline

  • Station Casinos sells the Palms to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, for $650 million.  That's more than I make in a year!  (News3LV, May 2021)
  • Gaming & Leisure sells the Tropicana buildings to Bally's Corp., which, confusingly, has no relation to the Bally's Casino a few doors down, which is owned by Caesars.  More confusing, there are now three different owners of a piece of the Tropicana:  Bally's owns the buildings, Gaming & Leisure owns the land, and Penn National operates the casino business. (Travel Weekly, April 2021)
  • Las Vegas Sands sells the Venetian and Palazzo casinos, along with the Sands Expo Center, to Apollo Management (casino operator, for $4B) and Vici (property owner, for $2.25B).  Since this ends Las Vegas Sands' business in Vegas, it changed its name to just "Sands".  (LV Sun, Mar. 2021)
  • Caesars sells its Ballys brand to another casino group (Twin River Holdings).  That allows Twin Rivers to use the Ballys name for its family of casinos. (Casino.org, Oct. 2020)
  • Caesars Entertainment and Eldorado merge.  The two casino groups combine their respective companies in a $17 billion merger, creating the world's largest gambling group, with 60 casinos in 16 states. (NNBW, Yogonet) (July 2020) 
  • Caesars sells the real estate of the Rio to Dreamscape, but continues to operate the casino itself. (Press release, Dec. 2019)
  • Circus Circus and Slots-a-Fun sold to Phil Ruffin by MGM Resorts. (CDC) (Dec. 2019)
  • Hooters sold to OYO, to rebrand as OYO. (LV Sun) (Aug. 2019)
  • Lucky Dragon casino/hotel real estate sold to Don Ahern. (April 2019)
  • SLS (now Sahara) is sold to Meruelo Group from Stockbridge. (PR) (April 2018)
  • Hard Rock Casino is sold to Virgin, to become Virgin Las Vegas in late 2020.  (Fortune) (Mar. 2018)
  • Stratosphere's owner, American Casino & Entertainment, is bought out by Golden Entertainment, making Golden the new owner of the Strat.  (iGB) (Mar. 2018)
  • Caesars Entertainment sells the real estate of Harrah's Las Vegas to Vici (for $1.1B), and becomes Vici's tenant (for $87M/year). (Dec. 2017)
  • Caesars Entertainment sells the real estate of Caesars Palace.  In the first example of strip casinos splitting the ownership of its casino business from the property itself, Caesars sells the real estate of its casino to Vici, and becomes Vici's tenant.  Note, reporting on this was ambiguous and inconsistent; e.g., Las Vegas Sun said that Caesars sold "almost all" of its properties to Vici, but it was really just only Caesars Palace.  (Vici's website shows the only Vegas properties it owns as Caesars, and Harrah's, which they bought in Dec. 2017.)  Vici's press release was similarly unhelpful, being 95% marketing B.S. and short on details. (Oct. 2017)
  • Cannery and Eastside Cannery are sold to Boyd Gaming by Cannery Casino Resorts.  (PR) (Dec. 2016)
  • The Palms is sold to Station Casinos. (PR) (Oct. 2016)
  • Golden Gate:  Derek Stevens acquires remaining 35%. (LVRJ) (Nov. 2015)
  • Las Vegas Club sold to Derek Stevens. (LVRJ) (Aug. 2015)
  • LVH (formerly LV Hilton, now Westgate) is sold to Westgate. (RGJ) (July 2014)
  • Cosmopolitan sold to Blackstone by Deutsche Bank.  (Forbes) (May 2014)
  • Jackie Gaughan: Legendary downtown casino owner dies, at age 93.  (LVA) (March 2014)
  • Treasure Island sold to Phil Ruffin by MGM Resorts.  (LV Sun) (March 2009)
  • Binion's sold to TLC.  (Binion's) (March 2008)
  • Golden Gate:  Derek Stevens acquires 50% stake.  (LVRJ) (March 2008)
  • Gold Spike is sold to the Siegel Group by Gregg Covin.  (Siegel) (Feb. 2008)
  • Gold Spike is sold to Gregg Covin by Tamares. (LVRJ) (July 2007)
  • Sahara is sold to SBE and Stockbridge by Gordon Gaming.  (NBC) (March 2007)
  • South Coast (now South Point) sold to Michael Gaughan by Boyd.  (LVRJ) (July 2006)
  • Gold Spike, Las Vegas Club, The Plaza, and the Western are sold to Tamares by Barrick Gaming.  (LV Sun) (June 2005)
  • Gold Spike, Las Vegas Club, The Plaza, and the Western are sold by Jackie Gaughan to Barrick Gaming for $82 million, along with 35 acres of land and two downtown motels.  Gaughan retains control of the El Cortez. (March 2004)
  • Boyd Gaming and Coast Casinos merged in a deal reportedly worth $1.3 billion. Coast had Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, Orleans, and Suncoast.  Boyd had Stardust, Fremont, California, Main St. Station, Sam's Town, Joker's Wild, the Eldorado in Henderson, half of the Borgata in Atlantic City, and casinos in the Midwest and South. (Feb. 2004)
  • TLC acquires Four Queens.  (LV Sun) (May 2003)


My related lists


Other sites

  • The list at Nick Christenson's LV Revealed is pretty outdated (and that's despite the recent "Last update" date; in reality, lots of stuff changed before that date but those changes aren't listed on the site).  I'm hoping he might overhaul the page someday, same as I did with mine.  Also, his page was the inspiration for my own list, so I have to give him some credit here.
  • Who Owns Vegas doesn't seem to have been updated since 2011.