BY JULIANNE G. CRANE
The popularity of recreation vehicles continues to skyrocket for both retirees and millennials. Many of these RVers are looking for ways to trim their overall cost of overnight campground stays.
This is especially true when RVers are traveling long distances and simply want a safe place to pull off the highway and sleep for a few hours before continuing their journey.
Enter the casino industry. Hundreds of casinos across the country are taking advantage of this niche market by offering free overnight stays in their parking lots. This practice, also referred to as blacktop boondocking, or dry camping, is when an RVer parks for free on casino property, without the benefit of hookups or other amenities common in fee-based RV parks.
“In our early years on the road,” said Jane Kenny, author of Casino Camping: Guide to RV-Friendly Casinos, “every time we would stumble upon a casino, we pulled in to play for a few hours and sample the buffet. No matter what the State, we often noticed a number of RVs parked in the casino lot, usually grouped together at the far end.”
Jane Kenny and her husband, Jack, began RVing full-time in 2000 in their 38-foot Winnebago Suncruiser. They discovered that most casinos are RV-Friendly and allow free parking overnight for self-contained vehicles. Many casinos also offer full-service campgrounds at a reasonable cost.
“Rarely will a casino turn away a camper who asks for permission to stay overnight in their lot, and if they do, it is usually for lack of space to accommodate large vehicles,” said Kenny.
Steve and Jackie Jones of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., have stayed at casinos for more than 30 years, both in dry camp and at the commercial RV parks. “We have never had an issue parking because of the size of our rig, even with our current 2005 42-foot Country Coach magna 630, towing our 2010 Ford Flex.”
For overnight boondock camping, the Joneses favor casinos over big box store lots because they feel safer in the “controlled environment of a casino,” said Jackie Jones. “All the casinos we’ve stopped at have security driving around. I walk our dogs several times a day, and I always feel safe.”
Steve Jones, owner of a mobile RV repair business, said they have RVed more than 300,000 miles around all of North America. “We find that casinos usually have good food and reasonably priced buffets. We always join the casino’s Player’s Club and build up points for discounts and other perks.”
Some casinos offer senior discounts ranging between 10 and 15-percent on food and other items. The age of “senior” varies, some as low as “50,” so be sure to ask.
When traveling long distances, many older RVers prefer to start traveling before dawn and get off the road by mid-afternoon. Stopping early enables them to spend time in the casino and sample the buffet. One couple at Win-River Casino in Redding, Calif., said, “We feel that if we are taking advantage of the free parking, we should at least have dinner here.”
“Needless to say,” said Kenny, “recreational gaming is a popular activity and more casinos continue to be hospitable to RVers.” Many resort casinos include multiplex movie theaters, swimming pools and even golf courses. As with any large parking lot, the downsides include bright security lights at night and potential highway noise.
According to Kenny, there are a few courtesies to keep in mind when parking for free at a casino.
• Number one, always check in with security and ask about their casino’s specific procedure regarding free overnight parking and where they want you to park.
• Blacktop boondockers should limit their free overnight stay to a single 24-hour period, unless you get permission to stay longer.
• Remember, a parking lot is not a campground. “Seasoned RVers cringe when they go into a casino parking lot (or Wal-Mart or Flying J) and see people who’ve put out their awnings, chairs and barbecues,” said Kenny. Essentially, restrict your RV activity to the inside of your rig. “If you want to ‘camp,’ check into a campground. But if you’re boondocking, be considerate,” said Kenny.