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Riverboat gambling offers a fun alternative to Las Vegas

Sure, every gambler's dream vacation is a trip to Las Vegas. But sometimes you just want the gambling without the glitz, glamour - and hassle - of Vegas. Instead, check out one of the many riverboat casinos that have sprung up across the country.

Starting in the early '90s, many states chose to loosen their gambling restrictions, legalizing riverboat casinos for the first time. Riverboat gambling has turned many formerly poor river towns into booming tourist destinations. Many of the casinos are housed on grand, historic riverboats, which lends a feeling of elegance to any trip.

We surfed the Web to find five of the best cities for riverboat-style gambling.

Tunica, Miss.

Located about 40 miles south of Memphis, Tenn., Tunica is now the third-largest gambling destination in the U.S. The city bills itself as the South's casino capital. Tunica's casinos include Bally's, Fitzgeralds, Gold Strike, Grand, Hollywood, Horseshoe, Resorts, Sam's Town and Sheraton.

One of the biggest is Bally's, which offers 40,000 square feet of gaming space. The casino has a rustic theme, with a timber-and-rich- velvet decor that brings to life the fanciful 1800s.

For more information, visit www.tunicamiss.org.

Council Bluffs, Iowa

Iowa was the first state to legalize riverboat gambling, and the new rules were profitable for the small city of Council Bluffs. By 2006, the Mississippi River city was home to three casino resorts - Ameristar Casino Hotel, Harrah's Council Bluffs Casino and Hotel, and Horseshoe Casino - and had become the state's most profitable gambling center.

The casinos are part of a new development along the Mississippi dubbed "Casino Row." Both Ameristar and Harrah's are located on historic riverboats. Ameristar, Iowa's largest riverboat, is modeled after the historic riverboats of the 1800s. The casino offers 38,500 square feet of gaming, including more than 3,300 slots and electronic games and 62 table games.

For more information, visit www.traveliowa.com.

Biloxi, Miss.

The Gulf Coast city of Biloxi is home to 10 casinos, and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Biloxi is scheduled to open this summer.

Located partly on land and partly on a barge, Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi is the city's most visible casino. In fact, it's Mississippi's tallest building at 32 stories. The resort recently reopened in 2006 after spending $550 million in renovations following Hurricane Katrina. The hotel offers 1,740 guest rooms and suites, three new restaurants and the new Beau Rivage Theatre. Beau Rivage's 85,000-square-foot casino features 93 table games, 2,100 slot machines and 230 video poker games.

For more information, visit www.gulfcoast.org.

Peoria, Ill.

The Par-A-Dice Hotel and Casino, located in East Peoria, Ill., draws lots of tourists to this Illinois River town. The casino is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 a.m. The casino offers blackjack, roulette, craps and poker, as well as penny slots.

The Par-A-Dice property also features a 208-room hotel, the Par-A-Dice Island Buffet, Boyd's Steakhouse and Bourbon's Lounge. For more information, visit www.paradicecasino.com.

Belterra, Ind.

Open 24 hours a day, the Belterra Resort is a riverboat casino offering 38,000 square feet and two levels of gaming space with more than 1,600 slot and video poker machines and 40 table games. The resort, which floats on the Ohio River, also features a hotel, restaurant, golf course, spa and live entertainment.

Also nearby Belterra is the Grand Victoria Casino Resort in Rising Sun, Ind., and the Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg, Ind. For more information, visit www.belterracasino.com.