If you’re an RVer on a budget, you may already be on to a little secret weapon- a lot of casinos will allow RV camping in their parking lots- FOR FREE! But if you haven’t done it before, it can seem a bit… weird. Do you have to make reservations? How long can you stay? Is anyone going to force you to go into the casino and play that beguiling Dolly Parton slot machine?
If you’ve got these burning questions on your mind, keep on reading below for everything you need to know about camping in your RV in casino parking lots.
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Why to Camp in your RV in Casino Parking Lots
If you’re reading this article, this may be self-evident, but casinos can be a great budget-friendly option if you’re looking to camp someplace that may not have a lot of free campsite options around. Casinos also tend to be in populated places, so great news if you’re a digital nomad or just need internet connectivity- most casinos should have pretty decent cell coverage (or at least, likely better than other free options in the area you’re camping).
Additionally, given their locations, casinos are usually conveniently located within close proximity to grocery stores, restaurants, and water and dump stations. So, for example, when my husband and I drove through the redwoods of Northern California, we were looking for inexpensive places to camp with decent enough cell coverage so that we could work remotely. All of the free campsites were located in extremely remote locations with absolutely no cell signal and the only available sites with promising coverage were upscale campgrounds that cost $50+ a night.
Instead of blowing through our hard-earned cash, we stayed at a couple of casinos, in excellent locations close to the most popular attractions in the area, with high speed internet connectivity and spent a grand total of $20 for a week of camping. Pretty rad, right?
Another surprising benefit I want to flag is safety. While I mostly RV with my husband, I have traveled solo quite a bit previously and often put myself in the shoes of solo female vanlifers and other RVers. As such, I think it’s important to note that I think that a casino parking lot is surprisingly one of places I’ve felt safest camping- there’s usually security patrolling the lots at all hours, tons of cameras, and bright street lights. This would make an excellent budget-friendly and safe option for solo female RVers (or really anyone who is anxious about security).
So What Do You Need to Know before Camping in Your RV in a Casino Parking Lot?
First of all, it’s important to note that not all casinos allow camping in their parking lots (just like not all Walmart locations allow it either). My favorite apps to find free campsites, including casinos, are Campendium, iOverlander, and freecampsites.net– once I find an available lot through one of those apps, I usually try to confirm that the casino is still allowing camping overnight through recent user reviews, as many casinos stopped offering this benefit in 2020 and 2021.
When in doubt, it’s best to call the casino and confirm that you’re allowed to stay there overnight- nothing is worse than showing up at a campsite later in the day and finding out that it won’t work out for you for whatever reason.
Of equal importance, not all campers are welcomed to stay overnight at casinos. You’ll generally need a self-contained RV (i.e., with some kind of toilet and plumbing system)- tent- or car-camping are usually not allowed. While you can certainly use the casino’s bathroom if you’re actively gambling, you may get the side-eye (or even asked to leave) if you’re routinely entering the property just to go to the bathroom (and, hopefully, this is self-evident, but you won’t be able to, ahem, use the outdoors as your bathroom in the parking lot as you would in a more natural campsite setting).
Once you know the casino you’re headed to is overnight-camping friendly, you generally do not need to call ahead and make reservations. You can just show up, but each casino will have its own check-in procedures. The reviews on the apps I recommended above should give you a pretty good clue of what you’ll need to do once you get there, but some pretty standard check-in protocols may include checking in with security, signing up for a player’s card, and filling out paperwork with basic information, like the license plates of your vehicle and trailer.
I’ve also stayed at one casino that charged a flat $20 fee to stay between one and three nights (which, I suspect, is used as a gating factor to keep out folks who are really down-on-their-luck), so it may be a good idea to have a bit of cash handy (although, you’re at a casino, so I have a sneaking suspicion an ATM won’t be too far away). They may give you a piece of paper to hang on your RV door or window to show that you’ve appropriately registered and then you’ll be on your way!
What to Expect When You’re Staying in Casino Parking Lot
The individual checking you in at the casino should point you in the direction of where to park and most casinos have pretty decent signage directing RVs where to go. If you’re lucky, there may be a separate lot dedicated solely to RV campers, but, more likely than not, RVers are provided a back corner of the main parking lot.
These lots will almost never be specifically designed with RVs in mind, so expect unlevel spots (come prepared with leveling blocks and wheel chocks) and parking spots that are not pull through or that do not otherwise accommodate larger rigs. In my experience, since the RV section of the lot is usually tucked away from the casino’s other customers, it’s likely okay to park against the lot’s curb or other “creative” parking solutions, so long as you’re out of the way and not blocking anything.
Like most free campsites, casinos do not typically come with hook-ups, so you should come with a full water tank, empty gray and black tanks, and a method to power your RV, like a generator or solar panel setup. So far we have stumbled across a handful of casinos that have each had either water hookups, electrical hookups, or a dump station, but these were definitely the exception, not the rule.
As to what the “sites” are like, I’m going to be honest- a casino parking lot is not going to be as scenic as, say, camping in Glacier National Park. That being said, you can certainly find some casinos that are perfectly pleasant and, some may say, even downright pretty.
For example, we’ve stayed at casinos where, from our campsite, we can see through a thick swath of trees into the sparkling Pacific Ocean or that overlook rolling mountains. And perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising- if you’re intentionally visiting the area where the casino is located, the surrounding landscape (including your new parking lot home!) is probably going to be pretty gorgeous, right?
While camping, most casinos (like campgrounds) will have a set of rules you will be expected to follow- these may be posted on a sign by the RV parking lot or you may be given a paper copy during the check-in process. Some pretty standard ones include:
- You can usually only stay between one to three days. If you need to stay a day or two longer, some casinos allow you to stay if you’re gambling with a certain amount of money each day (I’ve seen anywhere from $50-$250 per day), but otherwise, you will promptly be asked by security to leave.
- There’s often some kind of quiet hours, usually between 10 pm and 8 am. So make sure to watch your battery throughout the day so you have enough energy to make it through the night- don’t be the jerk who turns on their generator at 4 am!
- While players in the casino are playing high stakes games, there’s no stakes allowed in the parking lot (see what I did there!)- so things like awnings and clotheslines are out (word on the street is that asphalt does not make the best staking ground anyway).
Occasionally, folks may set up their camp chairs to sit outside their RV, but campers in casino lots tend to have a much sparser “campsite” (i.e., no tables, mats, or tiki torches) than those at more traditional campsites.
- Speaking of tiki torches, sorry, my fellow campfire lovers- you won’t be able to have a fire in the parking lot.
While it’s unlikely the casino is going to include this rule in their paper copy, please make sure to not be a tool (i.e., pick up your dog’s poop; don’t blast music that your neighbors probably don’t want to hear)- that’s how we lose nice things, like free camping in casino parking lots!
As for other rules and restrictions, one of my big questions when we first stayed at one was “Will I be allowed to unhitch my trailer while camping in a casino parking lot?” I’ve seen a few Harvest Host locations which don’t allow you to do that, which makes things like actually exploring the area you’re camping in more challenging and, due to crappier fuel economy, more expensive. And good news- the answer is yes!
Most casinos will allow you to unhitch your trailer and drive away during the time you’re camping there, so you and your tow vehicle can get to that trailhead down that really bumpy national park road, stop at that impossibly tiny parking lot for the beach you’ve been meaning to check out, or just go grocery shopping without having to worry about parking your trailer!
The only other noticeable difference I’d raise between camping in a casino lot and a more standard campsite are related to one of my favorite activities- sleeping. You should come into the casino camping experience prepared for two things: REALLY bright streetlights on 24/7 and some noise (from people coming and going from the casino and, due to casinos’ locations in more populated areas, things like trains or construction).
As to keeping the streetlights from blinding you with their cursed brightness at night, I swear by my trailer’s blackout curtains- I actually use this brand of blackout curtains in our bedroom at home and it looks like some of the dimensions are suitable for RVs. I also never travel without a sleep mask, which, while not as epically awesome as blackout curtains, does a pretty decent job of keeping out light.
As for the sound issue, I also take earplugs with me wherever I travel (#lightsleeperproblems), which have come in handy countless times- for examples, like that one really fun time, when we were camping at a casino, where maintenance people needed to literally chainsaw a tree that had fallen in the road apart at 3 in the morning. Thanks, earplugs!
Once your three days at the casino are up or you’re just ready to move on to the next place, there’s no check-out time or process you need to go through. Just check around your RV to make sure you’re following the Leave No Trace Principles (yup, those should even apply in a parking lot campsite!) and take your tiny home on wheels to the next destination (a casino, praytell?).
There you have it- everything you need to know about sleeping in a casino parking lot. Have you ever camped at one? Do you have any questions about becoming a casino camper? Drop them in the comments below!