Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course is a racino located in central Pennsylvania near Harrisburg, Hershey, and Lancaster. The 24/7 facility, the only one of its kind in the central Pennsylvania area, consists of a full-service casino, small poker room, and thoroughbred horse racing track. In addition to the track’s own live racing program, racing fans can bet on and watch each day’s races from many other tracks around the country and even Australia.
Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course is one of six licensed racinos in Pennsylvania. The advantage of a racino is that you can bet on both live and simulcast races.
Penn National Race Course opened on August 30, 1972. Unlike most American thoroughbred racetracks, it is open year-round. Another unusual feature is that live racing takes place in the evening rather than during the afternoon.
Hollywood Casino opened on February 12, 2008, four years after casino slots gambling became legal in Pennsylvania. The casino added table games in July, 2010 after that form of gambling was also legalized in Pennsylvania.
The facility is currently owned by Gaming and Leisure Properties and operated by Penn National Gaming.
Dining and entertainment
Visitors to Hollywood Casino and Penn National Race Course can choose from a wide range of restaurants. Final Cut Steakhouse, which is open Wednesday-Sunday, is the only fine dining establishment.
Another popular choice, also open Wednesday-Sunday only, is the all-you-can-eat Epic Buffet featuring American, Italian, and Asian cuisine, a carving station, salads, fresh veggies, and decadent desserts. Prices vary depending on the meal and day of the week and range from $14 for the Wednesday and Thursday all-day (11 a.m.-8 p.m.) buffet to $32 for the Friday crab legs, prime rib, and shrimp dinner buffet.
Sports fans can head for the Skybox Sports Bar where they can enjoy premium beverages and casual food items while watching their game of choice on one of 50 LCD monitors. On live racing nights only, those who want to be close to the racetrack have a choice of eateries: the Mountain View Dining and Terrace Lounge for trackside dining or the Home Stretch Pub & Deli or Paddock Grill adjacent to the track.
Rounding out the dining options, the other casual eateries include Glitterati’s Pizza, Celebrity Grill, and Main Event (for a quick bite while watching simulcast racing in the Simulcast Theatre).
Compared to some of the other Pennsylvania casinos, Hollywood Casino, despite the name, offers very little evening entertainment. On Friday and Saturday nights, the H Lounge offers free live performances by top regional and tribute bands. But for revelers eager to let loose and party the night away, this is not the place.
Since there is no hotel on the premises, players in need of overnight accommodations will have to make their own arrangements. The closest hotels, which are one or two miles away, are also located in Grantville. Hotels in the area include:
- Holiday Inn
- Comfort Suites
- Hampton Inn
- MainStay Suites
- Days Inn
Other options are to stay in Harrisburg (about four miles from the casino) or Hershey (about seven miles from the casino). Visitors combining a trip to Hollywood Casino with the attractions in Hershey, PA might consider staying at Hotel Hershey. Rooms are expensive, but it is a full-service luxury hotel with a rating of “Excellent” from TripAdvisor.
Who can play in the casino?
As per Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) regulations, the minimum age to gamble at Hollywood Casino is 21, just as it is at all of the licensed Pennsylvania casinos. No one under age 21 is permitted on the casino floor. However, the minimum age to wager on horse races is only 18 in Pennsylvania, so younger persons, provided they are at least 18 years of age and accompanied by an adult, can enter the racing area.
Security and fairness
All 12 currently operating legal brick and mortar casinos in Pennsylvania, including Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, are licensed and regulated by the PGCB. This agency holds all casinos under its jurisdiction to very high standards for security and fairness.
Another reassuring indicator for those who choose to play at Hollywood Casino that this facility is trustworthy is that the racetrack at the same complex has been in business for more than 40 years. Furthermore, in recent years, casino players have consistently given this place a thumbs up in their online comments.
If you came to Penn National to gamble, you may be saying hooray for Hollywood the first time you step into Hollywood Casino. This is a casino that caters to all types of gamblers, so whatever your favorite game and level of play, your action is welcome. Between slot machines galore, video poker, most frequently played table games, and poker, as well as live and simulcast racing, how can you not have fun at Hollywood Casino and Penn National Race Course?
If you’re a slot player, you won’t be disappointed. Hollywood Casino has over 2,450 slots and video poker machines of every description imaginable from classic reel slots to the hottest new video slots. Denominations range from one cent to $100.
Some of the featured slots favored by players at Hollywood Casino include the following:
- Big Bang Bucks
- Cash Explosion
- Cash Spin
- Hot Hot Super Jackpot
- Kitty Glitter
- Sex and the City
- Sphinx 3D
Some Pennsylvania casinos have a separate high limit room for high-end slot players. Unfortunately, there is no indication that this amenity is offered at Hollywood Casino. However, there are separate slot areas designated as smoking or non-smoking. The feedback from players in nonsmoking areas regarding air quality is mixed; some feel that the casino does a good job keeping the smell of smoke from spreading to nonsmoking areas, while others report that they still smell the smoke.
Slot returns are low
Besides the smell of smoke, slot players at Hollywood Casino are less than happy about the rate of return of the machines. But it is the consensus of opinion of slot players at all of the Pennsylvania casinos, not just this one, that the slots are too tight. Since the average return to the player (RTP) is only 88-90 percent, it is understandable that slot players would feel this way. As for the reasons why the slot machine payouts aren’t higher, there are several likely explanations.
For starters, the PGCB only requires that the slot machines in Pennsylvania return at least 85 percent. While the rate of return is above the minimum at all of the casinos, the average RTP for slots in Pennsylvania is less than it is for slots in some other states. Because they are assessed a tax rate of 55 percent on slots, Pennsylvania casinos might be more inclined to hold back on what they return to the player.
Another concern is that many former slot players have switched to table games, particularly blackjack, where the house edge is lower, so keeping the house edge on the slot games high is one way of preserving the casino’s bottom line.
If you are going to play slots at Hollywood Casino, if you can afford to play a higher denomination than penny slots, you should do so since the RTP is higher. But win or lose, keep your sessions short. If you’re winning, make sure you walk away a winner before all your winnings and more wind up back into the machine.
Since Hollywood Casino is a full-service casino, table games players will also find many of their favorite games. While the selection is more limited than at some Pennsylvania casinos, it includes the games that most table games players are probably looking for in that category. These are your choices:
- Spanish 21
- Ultimate Texas Hold’Em
- Three card poker
- Four card poker
- Pai gow poker
- Fortune pai gow poker (with an optional bonus game)
- Let It Ride
- Big Six wheel
Assuming both American roulette and the more favorable to the player European roulette are offered at this casino, roulette players should limit themselves to European roulette. The house edge on that game, with only a single zero on the wheel, is 2.70 percent, whereas American roulette, which has both a single zero and a double zero, has a house edge of 5.26 percent. The Big Six wheel, the highest house edge game in the casino, is best avoided altogether.
The number one choice of table game players at Hollywood Casino (and casinos in general) is blackjack. Therefore, a few additional comments are worth noting about the game.
One of the reasons why blackjack has become so popular is that it offers some of the best odds in the house. Of course, there is still no guarantee of winning, but many players like the fact that not just luck, but their own skill, is partly responsible for the outcome.
Blackjack is also a game that can be played with different rule variations, some of which are good for the player, while others favor the house. When you play in Pennsylvania, you don’t have those worries because all the blackjack games are the same and they are all good. The rules are set by the PGCB rather than by the individual casinos. Basic strategy players face a house edge of only about .40 percent, making Pennsylvania blackjack one of the best blackjack games in the country. The important rules for this game are as follows:
- Blackjack pays 3:2
- Dealer stands on soft 17
- Doubling down permitted on any two cards
- Doubling down after splits
- Splits up to three hands (except aces)
- Late surrender (As long as the dealer does not have a blackjack, players who don’t like their hand can surrender it prior to playing it out and give up half their bet.)
Lucky Ladies side bet
In addition to the standard plays (hit, stand, double, split, and surrender), Hollywood Casino offers an optional side bet at the start of each hand called Lucky Ladies. The minimum bet is $1, and this must be in addition to, not in place of, the player’s regular bet. The Lucky Ladies bet is a winner if the player’s first two cards add up to a total of 20. However, certain combinations of 20 result in higher payouts. Here is a look at the payouts:
- Any 20 vs. any dealer upcard: 4 to 1
- Suited 20 vs. any dealer upcard: 10 to 1
- Matched 20 (two identical cards): 25 to 1
- Two queens of hearts vs. any dealer upcard 100 to 1
- Two queens of hearts vs. a dealer blackjack 1,000 to 1
Since the house edge on this side bet is higher than for the regular game, you should only make the extra bet occasionally, and make it a fun bet for $1.
The most frequent complaints coming from table game players, and blackjack players especially, is the lack of low minimum tables. There are no $5 minimum tables, and the usual table minimum for blackjack is not even $10, but $15. Many players, including those betting $25 per hand, also feel the casino could be more generous with comps.
Hollywood Casino has a small poker room with 16 tables. The available cash games include limit and no-limit hold ‘em, Omaha and Omaha hi-lo, and stud and stud hi-lo.
The poker room does not offer regularly scheduled tournaments. However, the poker room does offer a Bad Beat Jackpot on all hold’em cash games. The Bad Bet Jackpot hits when quad tens or better is beaten by a higher four-of-a-kind, straight flush, or Royal Flush, provided that all of the following criteria are also met:
- Both players must use both hole cards to make the hand.
- There must be at least $20 in the pot.
- A minimum of four players must be dealt in the hand.
If all of these conditions are met, 50 percent of the Bad Beat Jackpot goes to the “losing” player. Another 25 percent goes to the player with the best hand. The remaining 25 percent is shared equally by the other active players at the table during the jackpot hand.
Penn National Race Course is one of only a handful of tracks in the country to offer live thoroughbred racing on a year-round basis. Racing nights are every Thursday-Saturday and most Wednesdays starting at 6 p.m. There is also an afternoon racing card on Mother’s Day. Penn National is home to several prestigious races, including the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup, the Pennsylvania Mile, and the Fabulous Strike Handicap.
In addition, simulcast races can be bet on and watched daily. Major events like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, and Breeder’s Cup races attract big crowds.
Marquee Rewards program
Hollywood Casino has a player rewards program called Marquee Rewards. You can sign up for your free Marquee Rewards card at the service desk at the casino if you don’t already have one. The card allows you to earn rewards on all of your slots and table games play, not only at Hollywood Casino, but also at any of more than 20 other Marquee Rewards casinos throughout the country, including the Tropicana in Las Vegas. You can also use your earned comps at any participating casino.
Marquee Rewards tier levels
In addition to comp points and other special offers and promotions, Marquee Rewards cardholders may be eligible for:
- Sweepstakes entries
- Free slot play
- Discounts on dining and hotel accommodations
- Invitations to special events based on their level of play
The Marquee Rewards program consists of five tiers. Status is determined by the number of tier points earned during the first six months or last six months of the year. Here are the number of points required to qualify for each tier:
- Marquee Rewards: 0-9,999
- Celebrity: 10,000-29,999
- Producer: 30,000-124,999
- Executive Producer: 125-399,999
- Icon: 400,000+
All players earn comps and have access to free slot play as well as other special offers and promotions. In addition, players at the Celebrity level and higher can take advantage of discounted rates on the Norwegian Cruise Line, and players at the Producer level and higher receive preferred access at select restaurants and player services.
Those whose play qualifies them for the two highest tiers, Executive Producer and Icon, also receive these enhanced benefits:
- Personal host
- Preferred parking and complimentary valet parking
- VIP lounge access for player and guest
- Two complimentary Norwegian Cruise Line cruises of up to seven days each, annually
- Annual renewal gift
Icon level players are also rewarded with:
- An annual celebration dinner
- Annual $500 airfare reimbursement towards a cruise or casino trip
- Complimentary annual three-night trip to any Marquee Rewards Casino, along with a $250 dining credit
After reading this review, it should be apparent that Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course is a facility with a lot to offer anyone who enjoys gambling. However, it is especially recommended for those whose favorite forms of gambling are slots, blackjack, or horse racing.
The casino tends to not be overly crowded during the week, but it does get very crowded on weekends. This can mean long waits for tables and the strong likelihood if you are a low stakes player, that the table minimums will be higher than you wish to play.
The reviews of this casino on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp are largely very favorable, but as with any casino, there have also been some complaints. The criticisms are similar to those that keep popping up for all of the Pennsylvania casinos. Areas to improve include:
- Table games with lower minimums
- Faster beverage service
- Better comps
- Looser slots
- Less smoke smell
- Better nightlife options
Standout features that many players love about this casino are that it is clean and brightly lit, the staff are very friendly, and the buffet is excellent.
Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
777 Hollywood Blvd.
Grantville, PA 170178