News | New Lake Charles casino is worth the drive

December 19, 2014

By Helen Anders | Dallas News

LAKE CHARLES, La. — The new Lake Charles Golden Nugget casino resort has the biggest porte-cochère in Louisiana, capable of corralling 100 cars. On both nights of opening weekend earlier this month, it was packed.

There wasn’t a vacant seat in the six-table poker room and only a smattering of vacancies at the 1,600 slots. Blackjack and baccarat tables were busy, too, and table waits at the resort’s seven restaurants were more than two hours at one point as cars snaked in from Loop 210 in a long line reminiscent of the movie Field of Dreams.

Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Landry’s restaurant empire, built it. And they’re coming — locals, for sure, but also throngs from Texas. The resort’s just three hours east of Houston, but it’s five hours from Dallas, so why should North Texans go there when they can reach Oklahoma’s tribal casinos in less than two hours and Shreveport-Bossier’s gambling spots in about three?

Because the Nugget is, in a word, fancier.

This $700 million resort is a slice of Vegas, offering luxurious rooms, a spa, a fitness center, a golf course, tennis courts, shopping, ballrooms, a Vegas-style dance club, a marina, a beach and pools with a lazy river and slides. The staff constantly asks if you need anything.

“There’s nothing like this outside of Vegas and Atlantic City,” says general manager Mike Kelly.

When you walk into the Nugget, the casino — open, not tucked behind a wall — lies in front of you, its jingles mingling with rock music beneath a huge red, white and amber chandelier.

There are seven Landry’s restaurants, including the high-end Vic & Anthony’s, plus a buffet. By spring, there will be two more outdoors.

Four bars include the high-energy dance club Blue Martini — dance clubs are staples at high-end Vegas resorts — and a fifth, the pool party scene H2O, will open soon when the pools do. (They and the golf course are still under construction.) Another bar within the casino, Rush, featuring both live music and deejays, stays open 24 hours.

What you’ll notice first in the 740 luxurious, contemporary rooms is that each includes a little table enclosed by two bench seats — a cute little booth to make room service feel restaurantish. The big bathroom has a granite double vanity and separate shower and tub.

The eye-popper is the elliptical tub, designed specially for this hotel. Extended king rooms’ baths are separated from the sleeping area by a curtain that pushes aside and —voilà — it’s all (except for the toilet) in one room.

Room rates so far have varied from nearly $500 opening weekends to $129 on Sunday through Thursday this past week (plus a $4.50 daily resort fee for Wi-Fi, pools and the fitness center).

Lake Charles already had a luxury resort, 10-year-old L’Auberge, within spitting distance of the Nugget. L’Auberge, which recently upped its ante with a $20 million renovation, reads more country club (for example, the casino is enclosed) than Vegas.

The rivals have already decided synergy is the way to go, and both a walkway and a tram link the two.

Helen Anders is an Austin freelance writer.

When you go

The Golden Nugget, 2550 Golden Nugget Blvd., Lake Charles, La. goldennugget.com/lakecharles.

Restaurants: Vic & Anthony’s, Grotto Italian Ristorante, Lillie’s Asian Cuisine, Cadillac Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar, Landry’s Seafood House, The Buffet.

Nightlife: Blue Martini club, 24-hour Rush Lounge, Ice Bar, Bar 46 poker bar. H20 Pool & Ultra Lounge will open soon.