The Venue at Thunder Valley Casino is less than a year old. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

When Thunder Valley Casino near Lincoln was being built more than 20 years ago, casino operators and tourism officials in Lake Tahoe and Reno called it a threat. The $100 million, 4,500-seat music venue that opened earlier this year could be even more of a problem.

The Bally’s (former MontBleu and Caesars) showroom holds 1,700 people, Harrah’s Tahoe seats about 1,900, while the new event center at Stateline will accommodate more than 5,000 people.

The Venue—as the facility in Placer County is called—is outstanding. The 150,000-square-foot structure is beautiful, functional and welcoming. Three levels offer fantastic views of the performer from comfortable seats. Two large screens brought her into better view from our vantage point. In many ways it felt like being in a large theater, which is much better than a stadium.

Slots are mostly the new style, left, with a few of the older ones, right, still on the floor. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The acoustics are state of the art. Which was perfect for listening to Jewel earlier this month.

The Venue replaces Thunder Valley’s 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater, that was built in 2011. Plans are for the new building to host 80 to 90 musical, comedy and sporting events a year.

I look forward to seeing a performance at the Tahoe Event Center to be able to compare it to Thunder Valley. Yes, I know the two are different, but still, the Stateline facility intends to bring in musical acts.

Roulette is available electronically. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Thunder Valley, which is owned and operated by the United Auburn Indian Community, opened in June 2003. When it first started Las Vegas-based Station Casinos operated the site.

What was striking is how big the casino floor was. It seemed to go on forever. Multiple aisles separated various games, allowing for easy walking and never feeling closed in.

It has 250,000 square feet of gaming space–including more 2,700 slot and video machines, 103 table games and a live poker room with space for 240 players. This is more square footage than all of the South Shore casinos combined.

Jewel plays to a nearly sold-out crowd Sept. 15 at The Venue. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Harveys in Stateline has 88,000 square feet of gaming, Harrah’s Tahoe 65,000 square feet, Bally’s 45,000, and Golden Nugget (formerly Hard Rock Lake Tahoe) 22,750.

Few of the slot machines I’m used to existed. In their place are large, colorful, tall machines. I was even surprised to see electronic roulette. I know, I don’t go to casinos often—so all the games might be what every casino offers. They were so colorful and inviting, though I was able to walk on by.

Two reasons I don’t often go to casinos are because they are not where I want to spend my money and the smoke makes me want to run for the exit. In the short amount of time I was in Thunder Valley my eyes hurt and clothes wreaked. Thank goodness The Venue is a smoke-free site.

The front of Thunder Valley from a bar inside The Venue. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The upside to the casino that night was I left the blackjack table with enough chips to buy a round of drinks for the two of us, so it was a profitable experience.

Another thing about Thunder Valley—free parking inside the garage. Free parking at a Tahoe casino?—not a chance. Oh, and that new event center in Stateline—no parking at all; in other words, you have to pay somewhere else to park.

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