LAKE CHARLES, LA. — If you want a taste of Las Vegas just barely over the Texas state line, take road trip to the new Golden Nugget on the shore of Prien Lake. The fanciest casino resort within a five-hour drive of Austin opens up its casino walls so that its bells and whistle beckon from anywhere on the resort’ ground.
$700-million casino resort, whose daddy is Houstonian Tilman Fertitta, owner of Landry’s restaurants, Galveston’s Pleasure Pier Kemah Boardwalk near Houston and Golden Nuggets in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nev. as well as Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Biloxi, Mississippi.
That $700-million figure might bounce a few eyebrows, but the money’s already flowing back The Lake Charles Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse, one of seven Landry’s‑branded restaurants at the resort, is outgrossing each of the other Vic & Anthony’s, including the one in Houston, and on opening weekend the casino was so packed each night that it was hard to find a place to risk the nest egg.
Lake Charles was already on many Central Texans’ radar because of the high-end L’Auberg casino resort, as well as the Isle of Capri casino and hotel. Guests from Austin, San Antonio and Houston have in recent years provided 65 percent of Lake Charles’ gaming revenue, according to Golden Nugget figure s.
L’Auberge, in particular has for 10 years offered high-end experience, and its room recently got $20 mil lion contemporary facelift. L’Auberg remains terrific choice, especially for families, because of its multi-slide waterpark and the fact that the casino is walled off in an area that you need not see unless you want to partake apparently the two resorts have gotten their head together because a tram already runs between the two.
Golden Nugget carries more of a Vegas vibe. We felt it as we approached and saw the helicopter on the front lawn. This resort, according to general manager Michael Kelly, has three helicopters, two jets, a yacht and a fleet of limos at its disposal to fetch favorite gamblers.
My measly betting bud- get won’t ever put me in that category, but I can still be dazzled by the huge contemporary chandelier over the re- sort’s main entrance, which is also the main entrance to the casino, with 70 gaming tables, 1,600 slots and a six-table poker room.
The check-in desk sits in front of huge glass walls showing off the pools (which will include a lazy river, a plunge pool with slides as well as H20 nightclub when they open soon), and next to the desk is Ice Bar, where bustier-clad servers are ready to pour you a drink if your room’s not ready.
A spacious standard room holds a king-size bed, granite-topped furniture and, beneath the TV, a little booth of the type you’d find in a restaurant. Remember: This is a Landry’s property. If you don’t eat at one of its restaurants, the hotel would very much like you to order room service.
The big bathroom’s shower and tub are separate — and a lovely tub it is. The sleek, elliptical vessel was designed just for this resort, Kelly says. In some of the larger king rooms, a curtain near the bed pulls aside to open the entire bathroom except for the toilet, which, happily, has its own little closet. This follows the Vegas trend watchable bathing but al- so let’s whoever’s in that cool tub watch TV, and Kelly says the tub is de- signed exactly to make doing that comfy.
The resort’s amenities will keep you busy. Shops offer denim, party dresses and shirts, flip- flops, beachwear, chocolates, gelato and more. Check out the beach, the marina, the spa, the fit- ness center, the barber shop and, when it opens in spring, the 18-hole golf course.
Meeting and event space on the second floor includes a grand ball- room where concerts start this month with LeAnn Rimes on Jan. 17 and Merle Haggard on Jan. 31.
Night owls will love the bars. Blue Martini, a club like you’d find in Vegas or Miami, complete with disco ball, offers high-energy bands. Rush, inside the casino, is open 24 hours and features both live entertainment and deejays. For people-meeting, check out the clubby bar at Vic & Anthony’s.
What’s not exactly like Vegas? The resort fee is only $4.50, for starters. The room coffee is free. The room rates are higher than in Las Vegas because there’s less com- petition. A king room at the Lake Charles Nugget commands up to $329 on January weekends, although you can score the same luxurious room for as little as $139 on week- days. (The Golden Nugget Las Vegas’ rooms run from $49 to $239 this time of the year.)
Finally, the Golden Nugget Lake Charles explodes with so many helpful staffers that they’re tripping over each other.
We dropped by the Blue Martini during happy hour and four people greeted us on the way in. At the hostess stand, two more young women said hi.
As we grabbed our bar stools, two servers appeared immediately to get our orders and urge us to come back for the band later. Within a minute, a young man appeared behind us and introduced himself, saying, “I’m here to help you if you need any- thing.” Help us bend our elbows? Get down off our stools? Not sure, but the place surely was friendly.
Landry’s, where we had dinner, was slammed with reservations and walk-ins on a 2.5‑hour wait, but the staff sorted everything out with smiles and aplomb.
Bottom line: Everybody seemed happy on opening week- end — everybody with the possible exception of Lake Charles restaurants and other business from whom about 1,800 of the staff were plucked. (The remaining 600 were brought in from other Fertitta-owned properties.)
The guy who checked us in to the hotel had been working at a local bank. The young woman who brought us our cocktails in Blue Martini was a barista at Books-A-Mil- lion. Our Landry’s server hailed from another Lake Charles restaurant that she said had lost several workers to the Nugget.
But that’s another manifestation of Vegas: Some win, some lose. For Central Texans looking for a fun new casino re- sort, this is a win.