Save on the flight to Vegas and skip the traffic-ridden drive to scary Atlantic City – table games are right around the corner. Few DC area residents know it, but legit and legal table game gambling will soon be just a 75 minute car trip away. Roll the dice, try your luck at 21, bet on red over black or even go all in – pick your poison. It’s coming this summer. In addition to betting on horse races or applying your skillful strategies at one of the thousands of slot machines, Charles Town Races and Slots is just 6 months away from offering all of your favorite table games right here in the DC metro area. There is nowhere else even remotely this close to DC where you can go and gamble away the days and nights.
So many people from the metro area head to Vegas and Atlantic City to get their gambling fix – and many more head underground for poker – that I predict the popularity of these table games will exceed even what Penn National Gaming, the parent company, is counting on. I’m pretty sure that later this year, you and your buds will be heading up to West Virginia for a little fun at the tables. It’s going to happen. It will become the local place for bachelor parties and birthday trips, a quick weekend away with the spouse, and even where you take your out-of-town friends who’ve never been to a real casino before. It’s going to be huge and DC area residents benefit from the locals’ decision to allow table games. Well, Penn National benefits anyway (unless you’re Rain Man). But at least you’ll be entertained!
What makes this casino destination unique is that the faux-everything and glitzy excess of a gambling operation does not extend much beyond the grounds. Charles Town is an incredibly historic town and is surrounded by natural beauty and history at every turn. Your weekend away could become a Friday night at the poker table for him and a Saturday morning checking out the unique little shops of Shepherdstown or a historical tour of Harpers Ferry for her. It really does combine to make Jefferson County, WV quite the destination. But it’s not all roses.
These lovely little towns are where I hail from and I cringe at thinking of the possibility of them becoming like mini-Vegas. Locals approved table games last month, the second time it has come up for a vote, with hopes that it will give the local economy a boost and create 500+ relatively well playing jobs for dealers and other casino employees. Since the first time it was voted down, the area’s delegation to Charleston (the state capital) was able to get the “profit sharing” formula improved in favor of local schools and municipalities; an estimated $6.4 million annually including almost $4 million for the schools alone. That’s a pretty attractive number for a school district that really needs the money. But at what cost? Many are concerned about the crime and the general culture of “sin” that is supported around a large gambling establishment. While I don’t really see Charles Town (and Ranson where the casino actually lives) as becoming crime ridden overnight, I do very much worry about the state and county infrastructure required to support the massive influx of poker-bound tourism.
Right now Charles Town has Thoroughbred racing and slots. And with just that, you can’t get out of the state on the main highway 340 on a Sunday afternoon without sitting in stop and go traffic for an hour. I really, really can’t imagine what that’s going to look like when you double or triple the amount of cars due to table games. I haven’t heard much info about other solutions, but I sure hope somebody is working on them. And not just at the government level – the private sector should find ways to tackle this as a profitable endeavor while saving the area at the same time. Casino bound train from Union Station to Harpers Ferry anyone? I can see it! I’m hoping there will be a regularly scheduled bus shuttle from DC to cut down on a lot of cars; they would follow the DC to NY bus model if they’re smart.
Since table games will be a reality very soon, I do encourage you to head out to WV and take advantage of the new entertainment opportunities almost in your backyard – and spend liberally at local establishments! But I ask just this one thing: Remember that your new playground is also one of the most historic counties in the country and is filled with great people in a beautiful, rural setting. In other words, take care of it. Respect it. Treat it as you would your own hometown. Because…it’s my hometown.