Date night in Charles Town, W.Va. - watch the races and hit the casino

Friday, February 4, 2011; 1:58 AM

The run-down bleachers, the dank smell, the . . . questionable characters - it may be hard to believe, but in another era the racetrack was actually a romantic destination. Women in their finest dresses, men in their finest suits, both in their finest hats - the sport of kings! Maryland used to be one of the cornerstones of racing culture but has fallen on hard times lately. But the Old Line State's loss is West Virginia's gain. With Maryland's racetracks suffering from a lack of slot machines, Charles Town's racetrack - formerly an afterthought - is now a hot destination.

That's because in addition to year-round racing - and there are few greater thrills than holding a betting slip and watching your horse charge down the stretch - Charles Town now includes a full slate of gambling options. Inside the casino it feels vibrant with a permanent buzz lingering in the air. And the adrenaline rush of gambling is best enjoyed with company. Support each other at the blackjack tables (always double down on aces and 8s), play each other's birthdays on the roulette table or simply sip free cocktails while playing the nickel slots. Win big and you'll have a story for the ages. And if you lose it all, well, at least you've still got each other.

- David Malitz

Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races,750 Hollywood Dr., Charles Town, W.Va. 800-795-7001 . www.hollywoodcasinocharlestown.com. Always open.

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