It's hard to spend a couple of days in Atlantic City and feel anything but alarmed by the explosion of casino gambling in Maryland.
It wasn't just the early morning bra left behind in the elevator that made me cringe. Or the completely soaked Snooki look-alike running down the hotel hallway.
I could even laugh at the hookah-smoking DJ presiding over a Mother's Day brunch and the mom's special of two vodka shots and a rose.
Yes, I somehow ended up in Atlantic City on Mother's Day weekend. With my kids. (Long story involving my husband's schedule.)
So I spent two days absorbing this seaside gambling town's overwhelming sense of decay and debauchery through sober eyes. The whole place felt like a colossal bait-and-switch, promising glamour but delivering little of it.
Atlantic City, born as a health resort in the 1870s, had a glamorous golden age that began slowly sinking into urban decline after World War II.
In the past 35 years, all of the schemes and construction binges and shiny towers erected in the name of gambling and the city's salvation have left the place feeling like a defiled wisp of hope.
That's what the gaming folks always count on, your hope.
Last fall, when there was a heated campaign surrounding a dramatic expansion of casino gambling in Maryland, one group was flinging millions of dollars into ads to vote against Question 7, telling voters that gaming really won't fund Maryland schools, local folks won't get jobs, and only casinos will be raking in money.
It sounded like this group totally understood the empty promise that gambling in Maryland will be.
And maybe it even feared the direction that the state is heading, - on track to become one of the most concentrated gambling markets in the nation.
"Leave the witchcraft and wizardry to Halloween. Don't be "spellbound" by Question 7," said a Facebook post by Vote No on 7, the group behind the campaign.
Of course, this wasn't what it appeared to be.
That whole $40 million campaign was fueled by Penn National Gaming, one of three companies that submitted plans to the state last week to build a casino in Prince George's County.
They weren't against gambling. They apparently just wanted to protect a casino they own in Charles Town, W.Va.
If they had defeated the gaming vote last year, they wouldn't face competition from MGM, which wants to build an $800 million mega-casino in National Harbor.