Sitting at the bar, I could actually hear the background music coming from the speakers, which was a welcome auditory reprieve from the barrage of beeps and buzzers.
While its smart layout makes Ocean Downs look like less of a Sam's Club than Hollywood, it was quieter and less crowded than its Perryville counterpart.
The casino felt idyllic, but for the gamblers who like the excitement of being around other people winning money, Ocean Downs still needs some time to develop a crowd. In that sense, Perryville is the more entertaining alternative.
Ocean Downs does have one advantage over Perryville: Once you're finished playing in Cecil County, there's little to do nearby except check out the historical buildings or maybe some roadside bars. But at Ocean Downs, the beach is just a short drive away.
The problem with the two casinos is variety. Most casinos these days aren't just a place to play cards or slots. They are entertainment complexes that offer live music, comedy, boxing fights or at least broadcasts of sporting events. The idea is to keep gamblers, amateur and professional, inside, lounging at a concert by Little Richard or Tom Jones or enjoying a comedy set once they've won — or more likely lost — a few coins at the slots.
Critics say that by just offering slots, the casinos aren't just skimping on entertainment, but also inadvertently encouraging a dangerously addictive habit — one that state officials are certainly keeping an eye on. Last week, they reported one in 30 residents has a gambling problem.
While the perils of gambling are just as likely in Delaware, both Dover Downs and the Harrington Racetrack and Casino have hosted musicians and comedians that could play Vegas. Both also offer boxing on a weekly basis, and host several restaurants and bars. And they're not much farther afield.
These kinds of concerts may be in the works at Maryland's casinos — Hollywood has at least one concert coming up, country trio Eden's Edge on June 25 — but, in the long term, they're going to have to step up their amenities if they're seeking to offer patrons a night's worth of entertainment and not just a couple of hours at the slots.
If you go
The casino is at 1201 Chesapeake Overlook Parkway, Perryville, about 40 miles, and a 50-minute drive from Baltimore. It is open 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. five days a week, and until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Gamblers must be at least 21 years old.
Info: Call 410-378-8500 or go to hollywoodcasinoperryville.com.
Lodging: Ramada Inn, 61 Heather Lane, Perryville. 410-642-2866.
Casino at Ocean Downs
The casino is at 10218 Racetrack Road in Berlin, about 130 miles, and a three-hour drive from Baltimore. It is open 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. five days a week, and until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Gamblers must be at least 21 years old.
Info: Call 410-641-0600 or go to oceandowns.com.
Lodging: Several options nearby, among them, the Hilton Suites Ocean City Oceanfront at 32nd Street, Ocean City, 866-729-3200.