I'm not a gambler. I've never been to Vegas and trips to Windsor, Ontario, in college were more about being able to drink legally at 19 than gambling. But when you live in Cincinnati there is a certain curiosity as signs for Indiana riverboat casinos lure you across the Ohio River with promises to make you "feel like a winner."
If You Go:
Belterra Casino Resort & Spa
Rooms range from $80 to $200.
Overnight golf packages range from $250 to $370. Restaurants include the pricey Jeff Ruby's and an affordable all-you-can-eat buffet.
My husband, Alex, and I gave in to that curiosity one quiet Saturday night in January. There are a handful of casinos within driving distance of the Ohio border, but as we drove along the river, it was Belterra Casino Resort & Spa's tall towers and glittering sign touting more than just gambling that drew us. Once inside the hotel complex, ringing bells and loud chatter steered us toward the casino.
First, though, we needed dinner. Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse's art-deco, red-tinted dining room fit our mood — and gave us time to plan our betting strategy. Two steaks and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon later, we headed into the casino. From the outside, it's a charming old-time riverboat moored just behind the hotel complex. Inside, the windowless, two-story gaming room could just as easily be Las Vegas.
It was crowded, smoky and noisy — things not typically considered appealing.
Here, they were ambiance.
Less than $100 and restrained betting kept us busy for two hours. It was a
modest amount compared to what those nearby were risking with their little towers of black chips. My husband headed to a blackjack table as I settled into a quarter slot machine. The energy at a nearby roulette table soon pulled me away from my lonely machine.
Several people leaned in as the tiny ball came to a stop. The croupier tossed the winners extra chips and swept the board clean. A quick lesson on how to play from the college-aged guy on my right and I was ready to join in, scattering my $1 chips across the numbers.
Some small wins and losses later, I got crazy, betting it all on red 32 — the color because it's my favorite, 32 for how old I'll be this year.
It didn't mean anything to the gambling gods. I flung my hands in the air and moved aside for somebody else when the ball hit black eight.
My husband wasn't quite ready to leave his table, but the time passed quickly as I people-watched. There were 20-something girls at a bachelorette party, a group of businessmen there after a corporate party and serious gamblers dressed for a long night ahead in track suits and sneakers.
At 2 a.m., the 24-hour casino showed no signs of letting up, but we headed to bed. It wasn't until morning that we saw the 18-hole championship golf course spread out 12 stories below our window. We couldn't golf or use the Hollywoody heated outdoor pool, but the spa was open for business. The serene, quiet rooms and friendly staff made me realize that this was where Belterra makes every guest a winner, no matter what happens inside the casino.
It would have been easy to spend the day there, but checkout loomed. As we walked around one last time, I took a moment to look out at the river. It had rained all week. The river was rising, rushing water topped newscasts with stories of flooding. It was beautiful, though, under a crisp, blue sky. I marveled that the nearby riverfront wasn't more developed. Belterra at least makes the most of the river, with rooms that overlook it and some golf holes that sit on its banks.
Massaged, relaxed, a Starbucks mocha in hand, I wanted one last shot at winning. I slipped a crisp dollar bill into a penny slot machine and pulled the lever. In just a few minutes, I doubled my money.