Harrah's Council Bluffs Hotel and Casino

Harrah's Council Bluffs Hotel and Casino

Updated: 5/19/21

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Overview and history

Harrah’s Council Bluffs Hotel and Casino is a small casino open 24 hours a day that appeals to those who prefer a more intimate casino experience, compared to its larger "neighbor" at Horseshoe Council Bluffs. The two casinos are about 2½ miles apart.

In the same building and adjacent to the casino is a 251-room hotel.

In 1989 Iowa became the first state to legalize riverboat gambling and Harrah's was a riverboat casino that opened in 1991. (Originally, bets could be a maximum of $5 and patrons could not lose more than $200 during one session in a casino. Those wager restrictions were removed three years later.)

The state legislature voted in 2004 to allow casinos to be located on moored barges in man-made water basins, eliminating the restriction that the casinos had to be on boats.

Inside Information

NOTE: All shows, events and deadlines are subject to postponement or cancellation due to temporary casino closings and/or safety and health measures implemented by the state.

This casino is equipped with Caesars proprietary Total Touch system that allows customers to order drinks, redeem free play, check their Caesars Rewards account balances, and receive real-time offers based on play.

■ Harrah’s no longer offers complimentary shuttle service from and to the airport in Omaha. If you need transportation, contact a host.

■ If you have leftover cocktails or wine you ordered at the buffet or 360 Steakhouse, you can take them to your room, but not into the casino.

■ I'd rather pay $8 or $9 for a drink at the Vertigo Bar on the 12th floor and get a "real" cocktail with a nice view and atmosphere. The Laurel Lounge at Harrah's is pathetic!

■ If you opt out of housekeeping services during your stay (minimum two-night stay), Harrah's will credit your account wit 1,000 Reward Credits per stay. You still can request additional towels or other amenities, but your bathroom will not be cleaned, bed made, etc. If you didn’t get a pre-arrival email asking you to opt-in, just let the front desk know when you check-in.

Parking Harrah's offers complimentary valet parking for all guests and there also is surface parking, as well as a parking garage. The garage can be very useful in the winter when it snows. There is gated parking on the first level for Seven Stars and Diamond cardholders, but you first need to obtain a special card to access it. This card can be obtained from the Laurel Lounge at Harrah's (or the nearby Horseshoe where it also works for reserved parking there).Relatively inexpensive rental cars are available at the airport, or from nearby Enterprise.

Hotel overview

Even-numbered rooms offer a view of downtown Omaha across the river, right, as well the outdoor Stir Concert Cove (see below). (If you're in your room during one of these concerts, you'll hear the music, but won't actually be able to see the performers because the stage is tented.)

Alternatively, the other rooms overlook a golf course and parking lot.

Except for floors two and 11, the entire hotel is non-smoking.

Refrigerators and coffeemakers are in all the rooms.

Standard rooms, right, are average-sized, typical of most Harrah's properties around the country and have "standard-issue" Harrah's furnishings. In addition to a king or two queen beds, there is a small round table and two comfy upholstered chairs. Bathrooms have one sink, a toilet and a combination tub/shower.One-bedroom suites have a parlor about the size of a standard room furnished with a sofa, chair and ottoman, small round table that seats four, and a built-in "bar" that contains the refrigerator and where the coffeemaker sits. The bathrooms are larger and have two sinks, a Jacuzzi, shower and toilet area. Both the parlor and the bedroom have 42" flat screen TVs.

Harrah's Council Bluffs participates in the Pet Stay program. Click here for details.

While there are plenty of drawers,the biggest drawback to the suites is the small armoire that serves as the only closet. Removing the robes will give you two extra hangers, but there's really room for only eight hangers, along with an ironing board and iron. The closets in the standard rooms are only marginally larger.

■ While the food and service at 360 Steakhouse are outstanding, be aware of "upcharges." (See check above.) All entrees come with a choice of "garden salad" or soup. However, if the server asks if you want the Wedge or Caesar Salad, you'll pay an extra $2 or $1, respectively. It's not much, but just a little irritating when this is not called to your attention ahead of time. [In fairness, the menu does say "Garden Salad" is included, but, after you've decided what you're going to order and close the menu, you're probably not going to recall this -- especially if the server asks if you want an alternative.

■ If you win a jackpot or cash drawing of at least $1,200 in Iowa the state will collect five percent for tax purposes. You can file a state income tax return in Iowa and might get some of that money refunded.

■ There is a $10 per day resort fee which is waived for Seven Stars and Diamond cardholders. Included is basic Internet (up to 5 Mbps) for up to two devices, but you can upgrade to a faster speed for $7.99 per day.

There is a small fitness center on the lower level, right, but it's closed during some of the concerts when the space is used as a staging area for performers. (Some of the equipment may be moved to another location on these days, so ask at the front desk.) Just inside the door to the fitness center, which is accessed with your room key, there are men's and women's bathrooms with lockers (get a key from the front desk), showers, and a sauna.

Off the hotel lobby, adjacent to the front desk, is a small "business center" with two computers and a printer. You can access the room with your room key, check your email and, if applicable, print your boarding pass.

What you won't find is a gift shop, swimming pool, salon, spa or lobby bar.

Casino overview

The casino has a little more than 500 slots – all the typical titles, as well as a variety of table games such as craps, roulette, blackjack, High Card Flush, Mississippi Stud, Pai Gow Poker, Three-Card Poker and Texas Hold'em Bonus Poker.

Harrah's now has a smoke-free slot zone with more than 40 popular machines.

The casino is equipped with Caesars proprietary Total Touch system that allows customers to order drinks, redeem free play, check their Caesars Rewards account balances, and receive real-time offers based on play.Both Harrah's and the Horseshoe have a slot machine/location finder, left, to help you locate your favorite machine(s) or event.

Alcoholic beverages are complimentary for Seven Stars and Diamond cardholders; others can use Reward Credits to pay for drinks. The casino has self-serve soft drinks, coffee and iced tea at designated beverage centers.

The Caesars Rewards Center and Cashier are located together and staffed by the same employees 24 hours a day.

NOTE: If you're playing to earn a daily tier bonus, you'll have to manually calculate your combined tier credits from Harrah's and the Horseshoe. The amount shown as your daily play on the Total Touch pad reflects only your score at the casino at which you are playing.

■ Shuttles run daily between Harrah's and Horseshoe. The trip takes about 10 minutes. Hope you get the full-size bus, above, and not the van, below, which is difficult to enter and exit.

Seven Stars Lounge There is no Seven Stars Lounge, but there is a Laurel Lounge (formerly Diamond Lounge). Hours (always subject to change) are 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, with food service from 5 to 8 p.m., 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with food service from 5 to 8 p.m., and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays, with food service from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Be warned: The lounge has the ambience of an employee lunch room, but there is a small bar seating about eight people. Food selections range from a salad bar and a soup of the day to a one main dish such as hamburgers, fried chicken, crab cakes, sandwiches, pizza and chicken tenders. You can view the current month's menus by clicking on Laurel Lounge under "Things To Do" on the Harrah's website, then "Menu," or request a printed copy when you check-in to the lounge.

Not shaken or stirred

Don't even think of ordering a martini in the Laurel Lounge. "They use too much liquor," one of the bartenders at the Horseshoe claims. Unless you're ordering a cocktail or some sort of liquor with a mixer, the pours are minuscule – probably 1.5 oz. I don't even think the lounge stocks martini classes. A host cited Iowa state liquor law as why the lounges can't serve more than 1.5 oz. at a time, despite the fact that you can order a martini in any bar – as long as you're paying for it!

Dining, entertainment and other amenities

For fine dining there is 360 Steakhouse. The 360 is on the top floor with windows offering a view of downtown Omaha. They also have a bar overlooking downtown Omaha.

There also are popcorn, cookies and other desserts available, as well as self-serve ice cream, soft drinks, coffee, hot chocolate, cappuccino and iced tea. Food is served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and again from 5 to 8 p.m. On Sunday the lounge serves brunch.There are no beverage servers, so order your drink from the bartender and carry it to your table, or just sit at the bar.

Note, though, whenever there is an outdoor concert a portion of the lounge closest to the windows overlooking the concert venue is open only to invited guests. The floor-to-ceiling windows are opened, weather permitting, so guests can enjoy performances from the comfort of their seats in the lounge.

Guests may take beverages out of the lounge and to their rooms, but not into the casino.

In addition, the lounge has a computer and a printer if you want to check email or print a boarding pass. Daily newspapers are available to read while in the lounge.

■ There is a $5.99 per transaction fee to use the ATMs.

■ For Seven Stars cardholders and those Diamond cardholders who earned 40,000 or more tier credits last year (or 40,000 or more tier credits this year), there is a General Manager's Club at the Horseshoe. The ambience, food and service is much better than either the Laurel Lounge at Harrah's or Horseshoe.

■ Forgot or lost your Caesars Rewards card? You can reprint your card here just by using your driver's license.

This is the current schedule as of April 2021:

Insider Tip

Every Tuesday guests who are 55 or older qualify for a buy one, get one free buffet (with photo ID and Caesars Rewards card).

In addition, the casino has a Fresh Market Square Buffet.

For 24-hour dining Harrah's offers the Stir Cove Backstage Grill. [Minor quibble: If you order toast, it comes pre-buttered. If you want your toast "dry" just remember to request no butter.]

Seven Stars, Diamond and Platinum cardholders get a 10 percent discount at the Backstage Grill if they're not using comps, coupons or other special offers. The buffet has special pricing for all Caesars Rewards cardholders.

Should you choose this for your Annual Retreat?

You probably won't find a friendlier or more knowledgeable staff – other than at the Horseshoe.

At its Stir Concert Cove Harrah’s has an outdoor concert series that runs spring through fall. There is a special entrance for Seven Stars and Diamond cardholders. Click here for the current schedule. For indoor entertainment, just insider the casino, Harrah's has a Tag Lounge & Bar with more than 28 cutting-edge interactive electronic games, a massive video wall featuring 16 55” TVs, and a Hop’Tails menu that features unique craft beer cocktails.

For golfers there is Westwood Golf Course and Dodge Riverside Golf Course. The clubhouse also has a small pro shop.

The machines are located next to the Tag Lounge and the Caesars Rewards Center. No more standing in line at the Caesars Rewards Center.

■ The direct number to the front desk is (712) 329-6415. (This is also the best number to call if you want to speak to someone at the steakhouse or any other department. If you call the number on the website you will get Caesars phone center and end up talking to someone who is not physically located on the property.)

■ Pending availability, Harrah's will transport you downtown to the Old Market, the zoo, and other attractions. Again, pending availability, you also can get return transportation. Harrah's shuttles also will pick up and drop off at select local hotels for registered hotel guests and will pick up at AmeriStar for guests who want to game at Harrah's, but they do not drop off there. There is no charge for these services, but a gratuity for the driver would be appreciated.

However, your dining choices are pretty limited – even though you can cross-charge between both Harrah's and the Horseshoe. Each has a high-end steakhouse, a buffet, and a 24-hour outlet for lighter meals and snacks. It would be nice if there were an Italian restaurant, an Asian restaurant or some other less expensive alternative, at either Harrah's or the Horseshoe.It also would be nice if the hotel had a pool, a larger fitness center and/or a spa.

In addition, the casino is very small, especially compared to the larger Horseshoe. Despite the fact that the hotel at Harrah's is immaculately maintained, given a choice, I'd probably opt for staying at the Hilton Garden Inn which is adjacent – and directly connected – to the Horseshoe. However, if you're using your Annual Retreat you must be booked at Harrah's.

In terms of the size and ambience of the Laurel Lounges, there's really no comparison – the Horseshoe's lounge wins hands-down. While the daily menus are identical, the Horseshoe's lounge is much larger and more inviting.

Plus, when it's open and for those who qualify, the General Manager's Club is probably the better alternative to relax and enjoy a cocktail.

Compared to the full buffets served in Atlantic City, the Laurel Lounges in Council Bluffs basically serve one entree, then supplements it with a small salad bar, soup du jour, and some cookies and soft-serve ice cream.

The General Manager's Club usually offers marginally better options such as sesame chicken, grilled sirloin and prime rib.

There also are lots of things to do in nearby Omaha – the Nebraska border is less than 10 minutes away from the casino. Among the top choices are the Historic General Dodge House and the August Beresheim House, the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium (one of the best in the country) and the Durham Museum (which has its own diner and soda fountain). Also popular with visitors is the Old Market Business District of Omaha with lots of restaurants and stores, including some excellent antique shops, The Archway, the Strategic Air & Space Museum, Joslyn Castle, the Joslyn Museum (free!), the Gerald Ford Birth Site and Gardens (also free), General Crook House Museum, Historic Florence , the Lauritzen Gardens and Boys Town. In addition, there is the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in downtown Council Bluffs and Terrace Hill (the Iowa Governor's residence).

As always, when you check-in, be sure to verify that your $500 comp account has been set-up and what it can be used for. Gratuities may be charged to your room and settled at check-out with your credit card on file. Best advice is to keep all your receipts until you settle your final bill.

Where Harrah's Council Bluffs is located

Those flying to Council Bluffs will take a flight to Omaha's Eppley Airfield. From there it's about a 10 - to 15-minute drive to Harrah's.

*subject to change

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