Can’t make it to Sin City? Head instead to nearby Cherokee, North Carolina

Harrah’s Cherokee features both indoor and outdoor pools.

STORY: Jill Becker

The gaming options include blackjack, craps, roulette, poker and slots.

Every once in a while, when someone asks me what I did for a living back in the day, I’ll tell them I was a blackjack dealer. I don’t remember why or how my telling this little fib started, but I do know that I like to play blackjack. And if I’m having a good day, I can make my initial $20 investment last for a solid hour or two.

While Georgia doesn’t have any casinos where I can get my blackjack fix, luckily there’s one about three hours north of Atlanta in Cherokee, North Carolina. The Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is an Indian-owned hotel / casino located on 56 acres at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains. When it opened back in 1997, video poker and video slots were the only gaming available, but today it offers everything from craps and roulette to daily no-limit, hold ’em tournaments and regular World Series of Poker circuit events.

Acts that have graced the stage at the Harrah’s Cherokee Event Center include everyone from Alison Krauss and Willie Nelson to Alice Cooper and Sammy Hagar.

If gambling isn’t your thing, though, there’s plenty else to do without leaving the property. You can work up a sweat at the fitness center; lounge by the indoor or outdoor pool; unleash your inner Mariah Carey during karaoke night at the SoundBytes sports bar; or challenge your friends to a game of pool, bowling, Ms. Pac-Man or one of the other arcade games at the entertainment center. Another amenity that appeals to guests is the 3,000-seat Event Center, where acts such as Foreigner, Reba McEntire and Earth, Wind & Fire take the stage. Once named one of the top 25 hottest clubs in North America by Billboard magazine, the venue is intimate enough that there’s really no such thing as a bad seat.

If rest and relaxation are more your speed, you might want to partake in the Asian Bathing Ritual, Coconut Poultice Massage or one of the other dozens of rejuvenating treatments at the Mandara Spa. Pre or post pampering, chill out by the cozy fireplace and enjoy a cup of tea and bites of fresh fruit or trail mix.

You certainly won’t go hungry at Harrah’s Cherokee. The on-site eateries include a Johnny Rockets, Pizzeria Uno, Brio Tuscan Grille and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. At the Chefs Stage Buffet, fill your plate—again and again— with everything from pot stickers and pizza to barbecue and brownies.

The Creek Tower, which added an additional 532 rooms, was part of a $633 million expansion.

When it’s time to finally hit the sack, your room will be waiting for you in either the Creek, Soco or Mountain Towers. There are 1,108 rooms in total spread across 21 stories, making the hotel the largest in North Carolina. The Creek Tower rooms are the newest and most modern, but the large jetted tubs in the standard rooms at the Soco Tower are a draw for me.

Despite all those accommodations, if by chance Harrah’s Cherokee is full up, note that a sister property, the Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in Murphy, North Carolina, is only an hour away. Odds are you’ll have a great time no matter which location you choose.

HARRAH’S CHEROKEE CASINO RESORT

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