Cleaning up at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino


Dover Downs Hotel and Casino is located in Dover, DE has horse racing as well as casino gambling. (Andrea Sachs/THE WASHINGTON POST)
August 26, 2011

If a casino’s goal is to keep the visitor gambling through hunger, thirst and exhaustion, then why did Dover Downs Hotel & Casino set me up in a room with a Jacuzzi as enticing as a vat of champagne?

Maybe, I wondered as I ran the water, the Delaware property was trying to relax me, thereby easing the pain of future losses in the casino. Perhaps, I thought as I tossed in a pinch of scented bath salts, the hotel was teasing me with the good life, so that I’d place high bets in an effort to sustain this level of luxury. But what if, I mulled as I sank into the warm churning waters, they were just being really, really nice, booking me into this undeserved suite? Aah yes, I concluded with a soft splash, Dover Downs is nice.

I am not a rube when it comes to hotel-casinos. I’ve done my time in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Albuquerque. But Dover Downs is surprisingly different. For one, it’s not garish — no flashing neon, bombastic sound system or hyper-patterned carpeting that can trigger an eye twitch. The lobby is, dare I say, tasteful, with sky-bound white columns, marble floors and a bountiful floral centerpiece. The hotel is connected to the casino by open passageways (can’t have players fumbling with door knobs), but there is enough of a buffer to maintain a separation of slots and sleep.

In the Dover Downs timeline, the harness racing and NASCAR track came first (1967-69), followed by the slots (1995) and then finally the lodging (2002). Though the hotel was the last to join the party, it isn’t lagging behind the other operations. It has grown from 232 rooms to 500 rooms, nabbing the title as the state’s largest hotel.

At the front desk, I politely requested a room with a view of the track, which was dormant during my July stay but active with harness racing from late October to mid-April. With a go-
ahead-and-accept-it smile, the employee handed me the key card to a Jacuzzi suite, one of 14 on the 10th floor. Not wanting to ruin the illusion that I was a high roller, I kept my history as a penny-slot shark to myself.

The elephantine suite — living space with freestanding kitchenette, bedroom, two bathrooms — could have swallowed my Washington studio plus half my neighbor’s place. The tasteful decor (desert hues, framed images of flora, mirrors aplenty) deferred to the floor-to-ceiling windows, which let in the muted lights of the track and the dusky night sky.

While I was playing dolphin in my Jacuzzi, temptation called from other parts of the hotel-casino complex. I considered drying off to try one or all of the above: the spa; the gym with punching bag, pool and hot tub; the bars and lounges; and/or the restaurants, including Michele’s, a fine-dining establishment on the second floor. Instead, I threw in another teaspoon of bath crystals. Eventually, though, my resistance eroded. Or maybe I was simply starting to feel soggy.

As part of my reservation, I’d received $25 in free slot play. En route to the Capital Club Members desk to collect my card, I detoured to the free soda machine (nice touch) and the winners’ board (nice display of false hope). Sure, I’d love to win $4.8 million like Bert D. of Fairfax, but I’d also settle for a few bucks to buy a sticky bun at Sweet Perks.

I won $4.91 on She’s a Rich Girl, enough for a treat and a coffee, and lost the rest on slot machines featuring cute critters. (Never trust an enigmatic wolf.) Returning to my suite, my pockets empty, I recognized the true windfall of the night: my Jacuzzi, which would never tell me “Game over.”

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