Often I find myself in a situation when I'm sort of stuck finding a free place to park overnight. Some cities have anti-RV ordinances, sometimes it's just crowded, and sometimes I'm far away from the big-box retail stores where I usually boondock when traveling through an area. Casinos fill an important void in the financially challenged full-timer's repertoire when it comes to locating an economically appealing overnight parking spot, and they have some advantages over your typical Wal-Mart. Here's how I find them, and what my experiences with casino camping have been.
Finding casinos with welcoming overnight parking policies is relatively simple for me, because I'm a subscriber to overnightrvparking.com , a $25-a-year subscription website which features over 10,000 locations coast to coast where you can park overnight for free or cheap with the data in a convenient Google maps format. It lists casinos along with Wal-Marts, rest areas, and other places and will tell you whether overnight parking is allowed or not allowed. There's also the free site, casinocamper.com, which has over 350 casinos listed.
The quid pro quo with casino parking is that the casino hopes to attract visitors who will come in and gamble, eat, or otherwise benefit them financially. I just smile and nod when registering – sometimes they'll give you a card for $10 worth of slot machine credit or something like that. My life has been exciting enough without gambling, but some people enjoy it. The usual procedure is to go into the casino and find the hospitality desk/security desk/etc. and ask about overnight camping. Sometimes they give you a casino card. All gambling these days is electronic – you don't use real money, you put money on your casino card, and watch it disappear. There's usually some minimal paperwork involved, and you get something to put on your dash to show you belong there. Don't just park, although sometimes that's all you need to do – ask, or follow the procedures listed on the casino camping websites.
Many casinos these days are putting in RV parks as they diversify their techniques for separating palefaces from their money, and sometimes, but rarely, the former boondocking facilities are shut down to encourage people to go into the park. Much more common is the either/or option – park in the RV park and enjoy the hookups, showers, etc., or park in the adjacent parking lot for free. Free always sounds better to me.
A parking lot doesn't sound all that scenic, but you'd be surprised. I know of two on the Pacific coast where the free parking also includes an oceanfront view. Others are out in the desert or the mountains, which is also easy on the eyes. I you're so inclined, go inside (cigarette smoke alert) and check out the buffet. Except in Nevada, where casinos aren't operated by native tribes, the casinos usually have an area with exhibits about the tribe and their history, which are much more interesting to me than gambling.
Casinos also go out of their way to make the prospect of spending time with them attractive – free fresh water to fill your tanks and a dump station to empty them are offered at maybe half of the non-RV park locations I have visited, and for a nominal fee at the ones with RV parks. There's usually security staff patrolling the parking area all night, good lighting, and sometimes a shuttle bus to take you to the casino or around town.
So check it out – casinos are a great resource to tap into if you're trying to find a place where you can park overnight for free while you're traveling. I have probably stayed in a dozen or more different ones in the last three years of fulltiming as I have criss-crossed the country, and have never really had a bad experience in any of them. If nothing else, the people watching opportunities are worth the trip 😉