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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Best of Casinos

Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City: Certain U.S. destinations have become so synonymous with casino culture that it’s hard to imagine taking a trip there for any other reason.

But as gaming laws have morphed in the past several decades, casinos have been gradually popping up outside of the usual gaming hubs that not only provide a different atmosphere than the neon lights of Sin City but also create singular destination-specific experiences.

In this look at the great casinos outside of the major gaming centers, we profile the best-in-class properties in four categories — golf, food, entertainment and shopping — along with the best casino architecture off the Strip.

Best Golf

Turning Stone Resort Casino,  Verona, New York

It’s not unusual for a casino resort to have a championship golf course or even one of the top golf courses in the country. But though casino resorts restrict these top-tier courses to high rollers as a reward, Turning Stone’s multiple championship courses guarantee there’s plenty to go around with its comprehensive rain-or-shine, 72-hole golf offerings.

Two of its courses have been ranked among Golfweek magazine’s top 100: the 7,315-yard Atunyote designed by Tom Fazio, a PGA course that has hosted Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar, and the 7,100-yard Robert Trent Jones-designed Kaluhyat, one of the toughest courses in the state, winding over hills and around six lakes.

The third 18-hole course, Shenandoah, designed by Rick Smith, is also a PGA-level course, and the resort’s two additional courses, Pleasant Knolls and Sandstone Hollow, both nine holes, cater to guests pressed for time or looking for more of a recreational golf experience.

But the Turning Point golf experience is more holistic than just getting in a few good games. In the golf dome, filled with 40 golf hitting stages, two simulators, two teaching areas, and putting and sand-bar areas, Turning Point’s golf superstore includes more than 5,000 square feet of the latest golf equipment and fitting technology.

“We’re able to provide a fitting experience that would not be found at many properties because we have so many different sizes, lengths and head fits that it’s going to be much more precise,” said Miles Blundell, Turning Stone director of golf. “It’s much more comprehensive.”

The superior level of golf support extends to the greens through two unusual amenities. Guests can take the instructor they’ve worked with in the driving range out on the course to see if they are changing their game outside to undo progress made during lessons. Even without a personal instructor, the resort pros are there in spirit through an app that offers users detailed information on each hole, including flyover videos for multiple views of the hole and obstacles. The resort also provides start-to-finish care for clubs and equipment from the moment guests park at the resort, making sure they appear at every tee time, lesson and fitting seamlessly.

Best Shopping

Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut

Though it already had acres of shopping featuring the likes of Bvlgari, Omega and Chopard, that wasn’t enough for AAA Four Diamond Foxwoods Resort Casino, which, since opening in 1986, has become America’s largest resort casino and one of the top five in the world.

Over Labor Day weekend of 2014, the resort unveiled a completely renovated shopping concourse to bring a rejuvenating, open, light-filled atmosphere to the indoor shopping areas as well as highlight gift and accessory stores guests look for, among them Yankee Candle, Very Bradley and Pandora.

But that was just the start. On May 21 of this year, it opened a completely new 315,000-square-foot Tanger Outlets facility embedded within the resort, becoming the first casino in the country to have an outlet mall fully enclosed within it. More than 80 stores focus on apparel to complement the resort’s other offerings; they feature everything from Armani Exchange to Eddie Bauer and Michael Kors to Vineyard Vines.

“For a fully developed casino resort, part of staying ahead of the curve is creating a lot of options in terms of amenities,” said Annette DeBois, vice president of retail development and operations for the resort. “Not everyone comes here to go gambling, and having everything fully enclosed is particularly appealing being in New England because of the weather year-round, but especially in the colder months.”

Foxwoods is also starting to offer guests the ability to purchase their favorite elements from their resort hotel rooms, from mattresses to decor, through partner Parker & Morgan.

Gabi Logan

Gabi Logan is a freelance travel journalist whose work has also appeared in USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News and Italy Magazine. As she travels more than 100,000 miles each year, she aims to discover the unexpected wonder in every destination.