Mid '60s: Don Laughlin (owner of the 101 Club in Vegas) flew over the spot and saw potential
Late '60s - early '70s: built/completed the Riverside Resort; several other casinos popped up
Mid '70s - present: minimal change
I'm pretty convinced that Back to the Future got the idea of "Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise Casino & Hotel" from "Don Laughlin's Riverside Resort".
If you've never been, imagine Downtown Las Vegas' cheap gaming/food/drinks mixed with the safety of a retirement home (other than the largest motorcycle gang fight in recorded history.) When I've gone with people who have never been, they usually fall into one of two groups: "I'm Looking Forward To Coming Back Next Year" or "Never. Again." Though I don't entirely understand the people that fall into the latter group, visitors should prepare themselves for a toned down scene where you can focus on gambling and drinking. A big mistake is when people try to compare it to Vegas (and not the Downtown part.) You will not be going to the hippest club. Instead, concentrate on avoiding getting run over by the countless electric scooters. You will not be eating fine meals. Instead, enjoy the fact that when a 65-year-old walks into a casino, the median age DROPS. I'm honestly surprised it isn't more popular with SoCal residents, but Laughlin doesn't really do its part in making it very accessible You can fly from LAX if you don't mind a quick stop over in St. Paul, Minn. Seriously. And there is only one airline that flies there. To be fair, there are quarterly, charter flights you can take, but who's got time to schedule their trip around a charter group?
Instead of doing a "Pros/Cons" type review, I'll just provide interesting observations about Laughlin and allow the reader to decide whether it is a Pro or a Con. I'll put the correct opinion in parenthesis:
Cheap Gaming: You will find $5 craps tables at any time of day on any day. You may even find $3 craps. Great, right? This is where you may have to "give a little" as a tourist here. During the day and into the early evening hours, it is more common to see "halfer" tables where there are only two dealers and only one side of the table is open. They put a stupid divider so the dice can't go the full length of the table. I find that this cuts down on the fun of setting the dice, grasping them in a particular way, launching them down to the end of the table and immediately seven-ing out. Low limits outweighs dumb halfer tables, however (Pro)
The Homeless: Either they forgot to start a chapter there or they missed their charter flight, but there are almost none. I say this even though during my last trip in early February, I saw a homeless dude signing up for a player's club card for the first time ever, anywhere. (Pro)
Cig Smoke: Sometimes I wonder if the people in the casinos still think cigarettes are good for clearing out the lungs. Most were definitely alive when doctors recommended a good, morning cigarette for people with asthma. The prevalence of smoke kinda ties in with the untouched quality of Laughlin and adds to the charm in some kind of stinky, carcinogenic way (Con)
Foodie Scene: Don't go to Laughlin for the food (Con)
Aesthetics of City: Laughlin is built right on the Colorado River and includes a "river walk" to get from casino to casino. The surrounding land is desert with super-cool mountains surrounding the area. It might be the nicest looking gaming destination in the US (quiet down Tahoe.) (Pro)
Taxis: If you manage to get the cab, you're in business. Otherwise, feel free to walk. Once you get to Laughlin, everything is walk-able or scooter-able. (Pro)
So by my math... 4 is a larger number than 2, so you should make the 5-hour drive from LA (or the 5.5 hour drive from San Diego like us) and enjoy yourself a long weekend in Laughlin. The locals, while looking like they were or at least know someone who was on Cops, are super-friendly and welcoming. Have fun!