“In most betting shops you will see three windows marked ‘Bet Here,’ but only one window with the legend ‘Pay Out.’ ”
That observation by mercurial British journalist Jeffrey Bernard underscores the lucrative nature of the gambling business – for the operators, that is, if not the players.
The American Gaming Association reported that casinos’ gross gambling revenues – the amount wagered minus players’ winnings – grew from $22.2 billion in 1999 to a high of $34.13 billion in 2007 before dipping to $32.54 billion last year. Even when you take out overhead costs and taxes, American casinos pocketed more than $12 billion in 2008. Operating a casino might be the closest thing the business world has to a sure thing.
Golfers have been the beneficiaries of that reality, even if they haven’t fared well at the gaming tables. Casinos, looking to lure high rollers, have been commissioning some big-ticket courses. Twenty-nine of the top 40 Golfweek’s Best Casino Courses have opened during the past decade. You’ll find them not only in the gambling meccas of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but also across the heartland, in places such as Tower, Minn.; Harris, Mich.; Riverside, Iowa; and Florence, Ind.
Shadow Creek remains the casino course against which all others are measured. In fact, the top five spots on the 2009 list remain unchanged from a year ago. The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, a thrill ride across the southern Indiana hills, debuts on the list at No. 6. It cost roughly $25 million to build and capped a $500 million restoration of the resort, which has the odd distinction of having the newest and oldest courses on the list. French Lick’s Donald Ross Course, which ranks No. 15, opened in 1917.
Minnesota’s Meadows at Mystic Lake (No. 10) also made an impressive debut on Golfweek’s Best Casino Courses list; it opened in 2005 but only recently acquired enough votes to qualify. Another newcomer, Sweetgrass (No. 20), a 2008 Paul Albanese design, has further elevated the golf profile of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The pace of course construction has slowed at casinos, as it has across the golf industry. But as this list illustrates, there is no shortage of fine courses where golfers can take out their frustrations after a tough night at the gaming tables.