Before the mid-1960s, there was no Laughlin, only a bait shop sitting on the banks of the Colorado River 80 mi/130 km south of Las Vegas. But thanks to the efforts of the town's namesake—ambitious developer Don Laughlin—it has grown, first slowly, then very quickly. Today, it's a mini Las Vegas with more than 12,000 hotel rooms and a mixture of large casinos and smaller establishments.

Still, mini is the operative word: No one is going to confuse Laughlin with the sheer size and overwhelming glitz of the Las Vegas Strip. Small has its advantages, however. The dealers are usually more patient than those in Vegas, prices for food and lodging are lower, and you can actually drive from casino to casino without spending an hour in traffic.

The best thing about Laughlin, in our opinion, is the city's location on the Colorado. Just north of town, the river is dammed into Lake Mojave, which is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. It's a good place to fish and water-ski, and you can rent a houseboat at Cottonwood Cove ( Boat tours leave from the casino area for brief sightseeing voyages on the river, and a pleasant river walk runs behind the casinos. Water shuttles travel between the major gaming establishments both day and night.

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