All In: A Night at the Casino

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From the October 11, 2012 edition

When viewed from the back, Hollywood Casino’s dirt-brown-on-sand-brown facade looks like a corrections center just waiting for its barbed wire fence to be installed.

But then the giant movie screen near the front entrance beckons like a flashing mirage in the middle of a desert of gas stations and sleepy strip mall storefronts.

We’re not in the “west side” anymore, Toto.

Parking is free, abundant and a reminder that this place wants you to feel as eager to spend that cash of yours as possible.

Everything about the sprawling inside of Hollywood Casino is grand, even the hideously busy carpet (legend has it that casinos pick those patterns to hide stains and dropped chips). It is pure Art Deco domination. Golden velvet-lined booths perch around the o.h. lounge. Gorgeous chandeliers dangle with bling that looks ready to drip good fortune on visitors any second now. Ceiling-to-floor silver bead walls infuse some sexy glamour amid the velour sweat suits and 10-gallon hats.

Living up to its namesake city, black and white photos and video of stars from Hollywood’s finest era abound — Marilyn Monroe, Ann-Margret. There are also huge banner advertisements for new movies, like the one that features Kevin James’ head as big as an Astro van.

Enough flat-screen TVs float around the place to please any sports fan. Whether it’s pro football or women’s college volleyball, the game’s on.

Oh yeah, speaking of games… once your senses adjust to the spectacle of it all, you’ll find at the center tables of blackjack ($25 minimum), craps and roulette. The rest is a neon-lit sea of slot machines blinking, clinking and ca-chinking for your attention.

A lounge band croons ultra-nonthreatening tunes by artists such as the B-52s, The Miracles and Prince. The occasional mid-song round of applause is proof that this crowd knows a good tenor saxophone trill when it hears one.

Or perhaps everyone is just feeling warm and fuzzy from the relatively inexpensive booze. A draft of beer is $3, and the bar’s got the basics plus Ohio-made favorites — Great Lakes, Columbus Brewing Company — and a Hollywood Casino original, a scarlet lager called O.H. Double Down. Teetotalers, keep your sensibly belted pants on; two soda machines in the corner by the video poker games pump out free pop.

The people trickling in and out of the restaurants, which range from super chill to swanky, are a good illustration of why Ohio is a test market gold mine, a hard-fought swing state. There’s a businessman in a $500 suit who tipped the valet $50 and a word of career advice sitting beside a grandma in a Tweety Bird shirt who will totally spend the $10 she just won on the glitter mini-stiletto jewelry holder available in the casino gift shop. And, of course, every type of person in between.

If all the shoulder rubbing adds up to too much, well, humanity, head to the bathroom. Even the paper towel dispensers are something to behold.