New Casino a CZ in the Rough
A first-person look at the Hollywood Casino Columbus
By V.R. BryantPosted Oct 10, 2012
About eight years ago, Playboy Magazine was putting on a club tour in honor of the 50th anniversary of its first issue. I was given two VIP passes as a gift. Whether I just read it for the articles or not, I was excited. Special access to a classy party, right here in Columbus, Ohio.
We got all dolled up, my friend and I did, and set off starry-eyed to some night club near downtown that no longer exists. The minute I set those eyes on the scene, my heart sank. The promise of something unlike - better than - the normal, dingy, domestic swill-soaked college town social scene had been a pipe dream.
Nobody else had bothered to pretend that we were somewhere else, doing something new and different. In fact, all it had done was attract a wider variety of cretin: some old, many fat, mostly white, all male. It was like a wax museum made of the most common of clay, and while that definitely didn’t help matters, it was separate to the main problem.
There was something just innately deficient about it all. It wasn’t even chintzy. It was drab. Colorless. Wholly Midwestern. A party like that didn’t work here, no matter how hard it tried (which, in the case of that particular party, was not very hard at all). My VIP status was irrelevant, because being important at a completely unimportant event is worthless.
The purpose behind this anecdote is that before this past Monday, which marked the grand opening of the west side Hollywood Casino, I had allowed myself once again to get excited at the prospect of a new social outlet here in Columbus that wasn’t a recycled bar space or a parade in an alley celebrating ... life, or whatever.
I allowed myself to beieve that the new casino would be some sort of quantum leap for the city, that in its confines, even if I had to share space with all the same people as before, that I would have distractions sufficient to make me forget it. After my first 15 minutes in ‘Hollywood,’ I knew that I had once again gotten carried away.
For starters, getting out to the west side from anywhere other than the west side is a hot, stinging pain in the ass. I-270 out there is a bad joke – a dizzying array of poor signage, diverted lanes and ongoing construction. The only thing worse than trying to get out to that part of town is actually being there.
Perhaps, with time, things will develop out there in that armpit of town known as Hilltop-Westland-Galloway. For now, as it is unnervingly apparent upon arrival at the casino’s border, nothing has changed. There are abandoned warehouses storefronts, empty lots, and low-rent pillbox apartment buildings as far as the eye can see. Hollywood Boulevard this is not. Think more like 161 between I-71 and Cleveland Avenue. Not exactly a hotbed of burgeoning business.
But the outside is the outside, right? It’s the inside that counts – fair enough. So once I was inside, I tried to keep an open mind. I was greeted by uniformed professionals and Columbus’s best attempt at a couple of showgirls. Cute (the attempt), but it was pretty much all downhill from there.
I asked a man in a suit and a nametag if there was a general information desk or welcome center where I could maybe get a map or a list of the games they offered. He replied, “I wouldn’t have any idea where to find something like that.”
I double-checked the nametag – he was most certainly an employee. After another failed interaction with an under-trained boob, the third time was the charm. I finally came across a woman willing to squire me around (read: walk me the 45 ft. to a kiosk), and I was in possession of a map. It didn’t tell me what games were available, or the minimums or limits, or where the cashier was, or much of anything, really. But hey! A map! And it only took 20 minutes.
To be fair, it’s not a very big space. And even I get the casino racket. No windows, no clocks – always make it harder to leave than it is to get inside. All the same, Columbus is not Las Vegas. Nor is it Atlantic City. Not even close. As such, I didn’t think a little guidance from the several dozens of visible staff was too much to ask.
Once I realized I was on my own, I decided to do a couple laps. I perused the food and drink menus, peered into the poker room, got the lay of the land. My main concern was the table minimums. I’m not a compulsive gambler by any means, but I was more than a little interested in playing a little blackjack, a little craps. My $100 was burning a hole in my pocket.
When the first 15-20 blackjack tables were $25 minimum bets, I was concerned. When the lowest I could find was $15, I was amazed. When even the craps and roulette tables were no lower, I was incredulous. The only thing outside of the poker room I was allowed to spend less than $15 on, it turned out, was food, beverages and valet parking.
Confused, I did some research. The Hollywood Casino that opened about five months ago features tables with $10 and $15 minimums. There are multiple casinos in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City with minimums as low as five.
Frustrated, I took stock. The newest casino in Ohio and the only one in a hundred miles - at least for now - apparently isn’t interested in attracting the casual player. Picture this scenario: you and a few friends (providing, of course, that you’re 21 years of age) decide that you’d each be willing to blow a couple hundred bucks on gambling. Maybe you win, maybe you lose. Plenty of people go to Vegas, right? And now it’s right nearby!
Except there are no real comps. No hotel suites. No shows. Not even any free drinks. There are giant movie posters for upcoming releases littered everywhere--yet there’s no theater on site. Can’t even earn a free movie ticket for dumping a month’s rent on mini-Baccarat. So unless you fancy yourself some sort of latter-day Semyon Dukach, not only are you not making any money, you’re not even getting anything of any real value in exchange for your rather sizeable donation.
There isn’t really any place to stay out there, so you’re either gambling sober or cabbing it back to civilization. The average taxi in Columbus would charge about $30 each way, and that’s assuming you’re leaving from where I live in German Village. Then again, if you were hanging out at my place, I’d probably tell you to get your head out of your ass and come up with something else to do.
What you have out there on Georgesville Road is a half-hearted, under-funded attempt at a nice new venue that will get little to no repeat business from demographics other than degenerative gamblers willing to put thousands of dollars on the line to feed their addiction and brainless geriatrics who pump dollar after dollar of their retirement money into insipid video slot machines.
Like most things in Ohio, it is unrefined. It lacks class. But worst of all, it has no reasonable sense of itself. Columbus is a progressive town; it has pocket elements that are hip, youthful, and fun. Unfortunately, Hollywood Casino appears to have done nothing to attract them.
At best, this casino is going to have a minimally positive impact on its surrounding area and will factor very little into the improvement of the city as a whole. More likely, after the initial rush, it’s going to be a dreary and depressing place where only those who can’t afford to play are doing so – a mausoleum erected in honor of Ohio’s everlasting mediocrity and a magnifying glass on the lower west side’s seamiest elements.
Bet you five bucks it closes in the next five years. Better that than throwing 25 on a hand of blackjack.