The Bizarre Phenomenon of Las Vegas Pop-Up Casinos

What’s the smallest casino in Las Vegas? That depends on when you ask. The state’s laws give rise to truly tiny casinos from time to time, but if you blink, you might miss them. So-called pop-up casinos provide a way for holders of unused licenses to keep them from expiring.

Clark County’s retail gambling regulations stipulate that to hold a non-restricted gambling license, a casino must host a minimum of 16 slot machines. Below that threshold, it would be a restricted gambling license, the type held by other sorts of establishments in the state for which gambling isn’t the primary activity.

So, if you’ve got 15 slots, you’re a bar, restaurant, or convenience store. Add one more, and now you’re a casino and need a different type of license.

Sixteen slots could fit into less than 200 square feet of floor space. No one these days wants to run a casino that tiny. However, a “use it or lose it” rule exists for licenses. Businesses wishing to hold on to a license for future use will sometimes open a pop-up casino for a single day to satisfy their regulatory responsibilities.

One such pop-up casino is coming soon, near the Las Vegas Convention Center, pending approval. The Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) recommended a temporary gaming license for slot machines at the former site of The Beach nightclub. Marriot International has owned the land and the license since 2006, when The Beach closed. Since it bought the site, Marriot has been planning a resort or potentially leasing the land.

The Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) will consider final approval at its meeting on May 18. The NGC has rarely decided against NGCB recommendations.

What’s The Pop-Up Casino About?

United Coin Machine Co., a subsidiary of Century Gaming Technologies, will operate the pop-up casino. The company specializes in setting up such temporary gaming facilities to extend grandfathered gaming licenses.

United Coin Machine will set up a temporary casino with 16 slots in a tent on the vacant lot. It will operate eight hours daily, starting at 6 a.m. on May 23. This plan aims to prevent Marriot’s gaming license from lapsing, significantly decreasing the land’s value.

Such licenses are highly coveted as the state stopped issuing new ones in the 1990s. Would-be casino operators can only hope to acquire one of the existing licenses. Clark County law calls for all non-restricted gaming operators to offer active gaming at least every 18 months to keep the license active. Before Marriot held the license in question, it belonged to The Beach from 1994 to 2006.

Marriot Is Yet To Realize Its Plan For A Large Resort

Marriot has planned to build a large resort ever since it purchased the land and the license. The chain has a significant presence in the area, operating around 1,000 rooms across five hotel properties nearby. Marriot plans to consolidate these into a larger resort spanning 16 acres, with gaming as a potential feature.

Marriot has been obliged to maintain its gaming license since it took over. The company has opened a pop-up casino every 18 months to maintain requirements. Opening a pop-up casino to hold a license is common in the city, and these casinos have become a Vegas experience.

The realization of the resort has been on hold since the Great Recession, other economic constraints, and then the COVID-19 pandemic. In front of the NGCB, a representative for the company acknowledged that Marriot cannot keep renewing the license without any project movement. That’s why it might have to decide soon what to do with the site.

An alternative solution is for Marriot to lease the land to a potential resort or casino. The site sits at a desirable location with a lot of traffic. Since the hotel chain bought the site, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority built the $1 billion Convention Center West Hall and is currently renovating the main Convention Center for $600 million.

Smallest Permanent Casinos in Las Vegas

If you’re hoping to play at a tiny casino and won’t happen to be in town on May 23, the pop-up casino might not be the answer you’re looking for.

Truth be told, there aren’t many very small permanent casinos left in Las Vegas. As Sin City evolved from a mob town to a luxury tourist destination, everything got bigger.

Once upon a time, Slots-A-Fun, Greek Isles, and Gold Spike each had under 10,000 square feet of gaming space. But the latter two have terminated the gaming portion of their business, while Slots-A-Fun has been under renovations for years.

It’s hard to find reliable information about the smallest casinos in Nevada. To our knowledge, Ellis Island Casinojust off the Strip, appears to be the smallest establishment still operating within the city. But with over 250 machines, it’s much larger than the minimum legal size. Reader John Mehaffey suggests that the smallest in the Las Vegas Valley might be The Alamoon the northeastern outskirts of town. It has 86 slots, two blackjack tables, and 7,150 square feet of gaming space.

If you want an intimate gaming experience, you might prefer one of the aforementioned bars or restaurants with a restricted gambling license. There’s no shortage of those, with over 1,400 in Clark County alone.

About the Author

Chav Vasilev

Chav Vasilev

After years of managing fast-casual restaurants, Chav turned his passion for sports and occasional slot wins into a career as an iGaming writer. Sharing his time between Europe and the US, he has been exposed to betting and gambling for years and has closely followed the growth in the US. Chav is a proponent of playing responsibly and playing only at legal online sites. When not writing, you will find him watching and betting on sports, especially soccer, or trying to land the next big bonus on a slot.
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