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MAINE TRIP REPORT: Hollywood and Oxford Casinos

by "Reload" Joe Freda

Joe Freda has been an avid gambler and writer for the past two decades, covering casino and sports wagering. His efforts include several years of articles at Sportsbook Review and Don Best Sports, while enjoying trips for blackjack and poker throughout North America and the Caribbean. Freda can be reached at joe_freda@yahoo.com or through Twitter (@ReloadSports).

Introduction

After my controversial trip to Twin River Casino during the summer's end (Oct. BJI), I decided to shift gears with a road trip to Maine as October's foliage came into play. A far drive north to Bangor took me to Hollywood Casino for the first time, and on the drive back home I also stopped at the Oxford Casino to partake in an elite lobster buffet event.

Background on Hollywood Casino (500 Main St., Bangor, ME)

Hollywood Casino is primarily known for slots, but has one pit of table games and a poker room. They also have an adjacent harness raceway with live cards several times a week, and a full slate of race-book simulcasting. A hotel exists on the property; the casino is open daily from 8am to 3am. Penn National owns the venue, and the Hollywood's Player Rewards program is integrated with the rest of this gaming giant's empire.

The tables at Hollywood primarily consist of blackjack, Spanish 21, craps (5x odds), and Three Card Poker. Blackjack conditions are eight-deck shoe-dealt games with 80 percent penetration, dealer hits soft 17, doubling after pair splitting is allowed, and surrender is not offered. You can play up to three initial betting spots, while splitting is allowed up to four hands (including Aces). The "Lucky Ladies" side bet is offered and adds its share of drama in exchange for a high house edge. All shoes are auto-shuffled, keeping the action fast with a next shoe ready after one finishes out.

Most blackjack tables have green felt, while a few have red. While this may not matter to most, I was told the idea behind it was "chip-color contrast." For example, players on $5-$20 minimum tables will mostly place red ($5) chips onto the green felt when they bet, while on a $25-minimum table they mostly place green ($25) chips on a red felt. This contrast makes it easier for floor supervisors and surveillance employees (in the eye-in-sky) to monitor the chips that player's bet.

Battling it out in Bangor

My first evening at Hollywood was on a Thursday night, making for a light volume of patrons. The minimums on the blackjack tables were $5-$25, with the maximum limit no higher than $500. Players at the $5 table had the additional disadvantage of blackjacks paying only 6-5.

I chose to stay low key on this evening by only playing 1-2 spots with a base bet of $25. As the shoes played out, I would start playing one hand and generally spread to a second hand when the "count' shifted to a slight player advantage. Despite the favorable (80%) penetration, there were very few occurrences to press my bets beyond the minimums.

One notable hand occurred when I was dealt a set of eight's and I split for a total of four hands, with a face-card painted on each, giving me 18's across the board. Unfortunately, the dealer ended up drawing to 19 and the house took it all. I still managed to grind out a pair of ‘lavenders' for the night's profit after some table hopping (and better luck).

Without a complimentary room, I stayed overnight at a nearby inn and looked forward to seeing what a busier Friday evening at Hollywood would be like. Before hitting the tables, I opted to try the casino's prime rib buffet for $22.99. Unfortunately, it did not rank high with me and I suggest looking into other dining options when you visit this property. Alcoholic drinks must be paid for in the casino, and I was also charged $1.39 to have an espresso shot in what would otherwise be "free" coffee.

Ending with a ‘Bang'

Friday night's betting action saw the tables more occupied, and I spent most of the time in a two-spot mode. At a $20-minimum table, the maximum was a sparse $300. Playing two spots required me to wager at least double the minimum (i.e., $40) on each spot, so I decided to use a $50-$250 betting spread.

The evening got off to a rougher start than the night before as I quickly lost back the ‘lavender' profit from Thursday. Betting swings sent me down nearly $1500 after the first few hours, but I surged back ahead after some late positive ‘counts' in one shoe - including being dealt a blackjack on both spots with $200 bet on each (sweet).

Eventually, my final hand of the night was the type of game-changer that decided it all. Based on the ‘count,' eight extra 10's were left in the shoe's last two decks and I was full throttle with $250 bet on both spots. One spot was dealt 7-7, and I continued being dealt more sevens until I had re-split to four hands. I doubled down one of the hands and sat with a grand total of $1500 risked; unfortunately, I was holding nothing higher than a 17 against the dealer's upcard of three.

One gentleman next to me had 15 and, after asking for advice, he...

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