To get to Hollywood, you don't have to catch a flight to the West Coast. You just drive to Cecil County. Or Pennsylvania. Or West Virginia.
Penn National Gaming Inc., which operates gambling facilities nationwide, owns Hollywood-branded casinos in all three states.
The Hollywood Casino in Perryville is about a 30-minute drive up Interstate 95 from Baltimore. There's also a train station nearby, and a new bus line goes right to the front door.
The Perryville slots casino, which opened in September 2010, now draws about 1.2 million visitors a year, say officials.
"Most of Perryville's guests come from the Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware area," says Karen Bailey, a spokeswoman for Penn National. "Many arrive by car, right off I-95."
The Perryville casino has its own style, but it's not over-the-top glitz, a la Las Vegas. The interior, done in rich hues, is inspired by classic Hollywood and 1930s art deco style.
The casino floor offers 1,500 coinless slot machines with high-definition video screens that have catchy names ("Sex and the City," "Kitty Glitter" and "Jeff Foxworthy's Redneck Rumble."
There's food, of course, and the casino hopes to open a new casual restaurant in August. Guests also can sip a cocktail at the Sunset Video Poker bar while playing — what else? — video poker. There are also electronic table games, including video roulette, three-card video poker and video blackjack.
"There's no live dealer — but players get to make a decision," says Marc DeLeo, a casino spokesman. "The games are very popular with our male clientele."
That's not to suggest that women don't enjoy gambling.
"We have a wide range of guests, and many are women over 55," says Bailey. "They have disposable income, and they come ready to enjoy themselves."
Mary L. White, a 66-year-old retiree from Baltimore, is among them. She's what one might call a casino connoisseur.
White has visited casinos along the East Coast and beyond, often accompanied by her two adult daughters.
"I've been to them all," she says. "I love Hollywood, especially the one in Pennsylvania. It's big, the people are nice and the food is delicious. We usually drive up. It doesn't take much time."
The Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course is not far from Harrisburg, Pa., about a 11/2 –hour drive from Baltimore. While Perryville offers slots only, Penn National has slots, table games, and live thoroughbred and simulcast racing.
Visitors will find about 2,400 slot machines (ranging in denomination from one penny to $100) and more than 50 table games. The casino also has a museum, a gift shop, several casual eateries and a more formal dining facility.
Then there's Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, about an hour from Baltimore.
Charles Town has 4,000 slot machines, 100 table games and a 30-table poker room. As with the Pennsylvania location, fans of horse racing can view simulcasts or get a taste of the action firsthand; the site has hosted live thoroughbred racing since 1933.
Among the dining options is a steakhouse, and there are also shops and live entertainment.
"The Hollywood casino at Charles Town is the largest of the three locations—there's also a hotel on property," says Bailey, who notes that guests typically hail from D.C., Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland. She says the casino gets about 5 million visitors each year.
Al Spence, owner of A.S. Midway Trailways, a Baltimore-based tour and charter company, says his drivers frequently transport busloads of passengers to regional casinos.
"There's such a variety out there now, but Hollywood is pretty popular," he says. "We go a couple times a month. In Pennsylvania, they actually have a bus greeter station. That's nice because the drivers usually have a four or five hour stay."
Two of Hollywood's casinos are open 24 hours, seven days a week. The Perryville location stays open until 2 a.m. on weekdays, with a 4 a.m. closing on weekends.
"Our biggest jackpot was $75,000," says DeLeo of the Perryville casino. "And back in April, someone won $23,900."
Asked if she's ever won anything, White recalls an amount just shy of $200. A big win would be great, but that's not why she's a fan of Hollywood's casinos.
"I worked on my job 46 years," she says. "Now's my time to have fun."
If you go
Hollywood Casino Perryville, 1201 Chesapeake Overlook Parkway, Perryville, 410-378-8500, hollywoodcasinoperryville.com. The casino is about 30 minutes north of Baltimore, off Interstate 95 in Cecil County. Perryville's casino has 1,600 parking spaces, with valet and self-parking. Motor coach companies also offer trips; a list is on the casino website. Perryville also has an Amtrak station, and "Teal Line" buses serving Harford and Cecil counties have a casino stop. Round trips depart Mondays through Fridays (except for holidays) from Aberdeen's train station. For details, call 410-612-1620, harfordtransitlink.org, or 410-658-5574, ceciltransit.com.
Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, 777 Hollywood Blvd, Grantville, Pa., 717-469-2211, hollywoodpnrc.com. The casino is about 15 minutes northeast of Harrisburg and 10 minutes north of Hershey, off exit 80 on Interstate 81.
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, 750 Hollywood Drive, Charles Town, W. Va., 800-795-7001, hollywoodcasinocharlestown.com. The casino is about an hour from Baltimore. An onsite hotel, the Inn at Charles Town, features 153 guest rooms and 18 suites that overlook thoroughbred racing.
Historic Cecil County, on the upper Chesapeake Bay, is minutes away from the Perryville casino and well worth exploring. Visitors can hunt for treasures in antiques and specialty shops in the town of North East, view nature at state parks, and sample down-home cooking and finer fare at locally owned restaurants. The Cecil County Tourism Visitor Center has a kiosk in the casino lobby with printable information for tourists on attractions and restaurants. Call 800-232- 4595 or visit seececil.org.