Monday, January 9, 2012
Outside The Atmosphere, The Hollywood Casino At Penn National Race Course Is A Gem!
The Good: Good games, Interesting museum, Plenty of dining options
The Bad: Smoky atmosphere throughout.
The Basics: Fun, but hardly extraordinary, the Hollywood Casino At Penn National Race Course appealed equally to the geek in me as it did to the gambler.
Last year, I was bitten by a bug while in Las Vegas and ever since I have been a responsible, if somewhat obsessive, gambler. I almost always quit while I am ahead and never play more than I can afford to lose, but my biggest problem in relation to casinos is that far too often I go into them at all. Following a ridiculously bad (in a business sense) Star Trek convention that I dealt at in Towson, Maryland last weekend, I was driving home when my mother and I saw signs for two different casinos. Despite having a lot to do and needing to prepare for my big trip this week, I surprised my mother by stopping at two casinos in Pennsylvania as we drove up I-81 toward home. The first casino we hit was the Hollywood Casino At Penn National Race Course.
When we pulled into this casino - or technically, racino - I had fairly low expectations. After all, I live pretty close to a racino, the Vernon Downs Racino (reviewed here!) and it is a somewhat dumpy gambling establishment with no "atmosphere," a very limited selection of games and I tend to only go there because it is a nonsmoking gambling establishment pretty close to me. So I was surprised when pulling into the Hollywood Casino. The Hollywood Casino At Penn National Race Course is a surprisingly large casino in "Central" Pennsylvania (the quotes because I would consider this more Southern PA, myself). This is a slot-machine driven casino and it had some real charm, even if I did not ultimately win there.
Hollywood Casino Casino: came in with $5.00, left with $5.00.
The Hollywood Casino is a large slot-machine dominated casino located at 777 Hollywood Boulevard in Grantville, Pennsylvania. This is just north of Harrisburg on Interstate 81 and north of Hershey as well. There are exceptionally clear signs and billboards for the Hollywood Casino on I-81 and the moment one gets off at Exit 80, there are signs to the casino. Given that we visited in the evening on a Sunday and there were cars streaming into the establishment, one has the impression that it would be hard to miss the casino at any time of night. The Hollywood Casino is set away from Grantville proper and is a substantial structure with its high facade and attached parking garage.
The Hollywood Casino has a large parking area, easily enough for two thousand cars between the lot and the parking garage, near the casino and it is hard to imagine what it would look like all filled up! I arrived in winter, so it seems unfair to comment on the grounds, which were pretty much winterdead.
The Hollywood Casino At Penn National Race Course is an impressive casino on the East Coast and it feels like it is capitalizing on the space it has. All of the ceilings are very high, all of the carpets are clean and the place feels like one massive hotel lobby. The casino has giant spaces on the outer walls where immense movie advertisements are hung for current movies and the idea of having movie billboards inside gives one the conception of how large the place is.
The casino is spaced and dressed up like a movie theater lobby, with movie posters up on virtually every visible wall on the outer ring. The main gaming floor is large and is organized as a wheel around the stage (when we arrived, a do-wop group from the '50's was performing) and adjacent restaurant. Banks of video slots are remarkably regular, though like many casinos, banks are arranged periodically perpendicular to one another so one may not walk too far in a straight line without running into more slot machines.
Unfortunately, the high ceilings do little to dissipate the cigarette and cigar smoke that is prevalent in the casino. There were occasional signs designating smoking and nonsmoking areas within the casino, but there was absolutely no enforcement of that, so this casino smells smoky and by the time we left after two and a half hours, my throat was fairly raw. As someone sensitive to such things, I could not wait to get home and wash the scent out of my hair. The Hollywood Casino At Penn National Race Course did not have posted hours of operation, so I assume it is a twenty-four hour a day racino.
As for the "atmosphere" of the Hollywood Casino, this is a casino trading on the gambling, not much more. The workers on the casino floor all wore shorts and button-down shirts. Women are in no way exploited in this environment and there were very few servers walking the floor, perhaps due to the concert. Most of the casino staff on the floor were maintenance for the machines and guides to help gamblers find what they were looking for.
Gaming Options/Player's Club
I have a very simple gambling philosophy: I sit down at a slot machine with $5.00. I work it up to $10 or down to zero. I know my limits: I can afford to lose $5.00. So, when I am above that, I'll usually work it up or whittle it down to the next even $5.00. Have a strategy, know your limits: the Hollywood Casino Casino worked quite well for me. I arrived, signed up for the player's club card and sat down with my five dollars. I found a game I enjoyed, but did not get ahead. I switched machines, but never got over $7.50 until I worked myself back down to $5.00 and stopped gambling on my money. My mother then gave me $10 and I sat down at "House Of The Dead-Ex" and doubled the money on the first spin. I returned her ten bucks, then enjoyed playing that slot for an hour, slowly whittling the initial ten down.
Having had pretty extensive experience with the video slot machines over last summer, I know what I like. I tend to enjoy the slots that are more girly themed or video game-like, but hand's down the game I enjoyed most at the Hollywood Casino was "House Of The Dead-Ex," a zombie-themed slot machine that had great graphics and a decent payout. The Hollywood Casino had a surprisingly excellent collection of video slot machines, including some I have not seen before outside Las Vegas! Some of the new games they were highlighting included Deal Or No Deal, Goldfish Gold, Fantasmic, "Happy Days," and "Wheel Of Fortune!" As well, they had a slew of the standard video slot machines I see at most casinos, like "Invaders From Planet Moo-lah," "Village People Party," Hexcraft, Enchanted Forest, Cleopatra and hundreds of others. The Hollywood Casino Casino had an impressive selection and I recall when looking around upon first entering that there were several banks of virtually every game they had, though I only found a single "Alien" slot machine. Given that there are two thousand video slot machines at the Hollywood Casino, there are extensive options and this racino trades on that diversity well.
For those who might be into games of chance and card games instead of the fun and controlled reinforcement of video slot machines, there are no card games at this casino. Upstairs, though, there was a sports bar for and a simulcast center for betting on sports events and horse racing both at the Penn National Race Course and around the world.
There is a player's club at the Hollywood Casino, which is the Action! club. Signing up is easy. Simply present a driver's license at the player's club center and get a card. They looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if there was anything given out for signing up. They do not. Points here are accrued as part of a countdown which varied based upon the amount of the bet on the individual machine. After three hours of play, I left with only three points on my card. There was no clear place to spend accumulated points.
The Hollywood Casino is light on entertainment and the only advertisement I saw was for the band that was performing while we were there. They have a central stage for such acts, so one assumes they are getting more.
But perhaps the real reason to bother with the Hollywood Casino At Penn National Race Course is the museum inside. Free to anyone walking around is a small museum of artifacts from various significant films. On display were two dresses worn by Marilyn Monroe, one of Elvis's outfits, one of the actual Alien Queens used in the filming of "Aliens" and costumes (including one of Catwoman's!) from the set of "Batman Returns!" There was the motorcycle from "Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade" as well as several other items from other recognizable blockbusters! This becomes a great casino for a geek to geek out in!
We arrived at the Hollywood Casino in the evening, but after we had already eaten. As a result, we did not partake of the Epic Buffet (but the size of the desserts alone make it a reason we will be coming back to the casino in the future!). For those not into buffet food, there was a grill, sports bar, coffee bar, pub, pizza place, steakhouse and a sit down restaurant for those looking for something classy (and expensive). The food looked great and prices range, as one might expect, from the reasonable to the expensive.
For easy refreshment, there is a drink station with coffee and soft drinks. This was clearly marked as self-serve and that makes for a nice touch; gambling and drinking soft drinks. There was a lounge and alcohol is served on the premises for those who like mixing drinking with losing money.
Unlike Las Vegas casinos, Hollywood Casino Casino is not trading so much on shopping. There was a gift shop with overpriced Hollywood-themed collectibles, like cardboard standups of Elvis and James Dean. There were sections with knicknacks from "Star Wars" and "The Wizard Of Oz," but everything was severely overpriced.
Hollywood Casino is fun in southern Pennsylvania and despite the atmosphere, I had a lot of fun there and am likely to go back because the game choices were so good . . . and the buffet is just begging to be tried!
For other casino reviews, please check out my takes on:
Seneca Niagara Casino
Isle Of Capri
For other travel reviews, please visit my Travel Index Page!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.