I have visited many casinos since earning age eligibility — several still owe me money — and so I feel confident saying that the new Maryland Live! Casino is probably in the strangest location in America for a large gambling venue. I realized this rather abruptly after arriving the other day to review the place. I stepped out of the parking garage and was greeted with signs for T.J. Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory.
I did not need new underwear or a winter coat.
The 330,000-square foot casino in Hanover is literally steps from the Arundel Mills Mall, which creates a whole new class of errand running: I need to pick up a new pair of sunglasses, then pull a few slots. Or: I need to buy Johnny back-to-school clothes, then pull a few slots. This evolution in errand running is going to produce bizarre checkcard statements: $39.98 at Payless Shoes, followed by $100 at the casino ATM. Bank computers will be scratching their heads.
You can actually leave the mall food court and stroll in the casino’s main entrance in under a minute. The entryway looks and sounds like what you would find in a similar gambling venue in Las Vegas: sparkling neon-colored wires hanging from the ceiling, a huge pole wrapped in shiny reflective tiles, and the sounds of slot machines beeping, pinging, ringing, singing, buzzing at tones generally not heard in non-gambling locations.
I should make this clear: Though Maryland Live! might technically fit the definition of a casino, it really is just a very large warehouse of electronic push-button gambling machines. You will not see a real deck of cards unless you bring your own. You won’t feel dice in your hands. There are no chips. Without real table games, Maryland Live! is, to me, really just a wannabe casino built in a state without the political courage or muscle to build the real thing.
But it’s a very nice place, and I had a nice time, and I even walked away with some money, which was a relief because there is no space on Washington Post expense forms for gambling losses. I started where all good gamblers should start at casinos: The buffet. For about $18, it’s of course all-you-can-eat: there’s Chinese, Italian, a salad bar, a meat carving station, a seafood station (with enormous oysters) and a make-your-own ice cream cone/sundae depot. (There’s a Cheesecake Factory and Bobby’s Burger Palace at the casino too.)
I found the sweet-and-sour pork pleasing enough to get more, and I was delighted with the friendly wait staff, which refilled my Diet Coke at rapid intervals. Not everyone was at the top of their game yet, though. When I asked an attendant behind one of the food counters what the “Chef’s Choice” was in front of me — draped in mushrooms and a heavy brown sauce — he said, “I think it’s chicken.” If you learn no other lesson in life, know that it’s never wise to touch anything with a “I think it’s chicken” label.
The decor of the casino is reddish. Everything seemed to have a red hue — the lights above the casino floor, the carpet, the bar stools — which is in keeping of course with the red in Maryland’s flag. The bathrooms: spiffy, clean and large with modern decor and lighting as well as high-end Kohler furnishings. I was especially impressed with the Xlerator Hand Dryer, which says “Feel the Power” near the air hole. It was like a tornado wind. My hands dried fast.
The rate of hand-drying was heartening because the speed of other parts of the casino was not. Lines for ATM and voucher machines, as well as the cashier, were often 20 or 40 people deep not just because the size of the crowds — there were lines to get into the casino throughout the weekend and heavy traffic nearby— but because many of the machines were malfunctioning or, as one line-waiter put it, “Maybe they’re out of money.” Doubtful.
Lines at casinos favor nobody, especially the casino owners, who would much rather have people gambling at cheesy slot machines with names such as “Hot-n-Saucy,” which is how my wife never describes me. I never play slots because when I do my buddy Rick makes fun of me, but I decided to test “Hot-N-Saucy” in the spirit of somewhat thorough journalism.
On the screen there were a bunch of numbers in rows, as well as the sun, a dude with a surfboard, a diamond, a fire and — well, I hit the “play all lines” button or something like it and the screen drew all sorts of lines all over the place and then all the rows started moving and spinning, fast then slow, and when it was all over I had lost, for reasons I still don’t understand, and I got up.
I headed for the blackjack table, which is where I typically like to donate money. At Maryland Live! the blackjack tables are, to me, nothing more than “blackjack tables.” There are no human dealers. I sat down at the “table” with buttons in front of me for “hit” and “stand” and “double down,” slipped 40 bucks into the money slider, and my cards digitally floated toward the screen in front of me. There were three other humans sitting near me at the “blackjack table.” The minimum bet seemed to be $15 a hand — you put in money, but bet credits. I’m not smart enough for an all-digital casino.
I pushed on the first hand—- the dealer and I both had 17. I was “dealt” an 8 and 3 the next hand. The “dealer” showed a King. I doubled down, was dealt a King on the next card for 21 total, the dealer busted, and I went up $30. That was enough at the “blackjack table” for me. I did not cash in my chips because, again, there were no chips. I printed out a redemption ticket for $70, cashed it in at the cashier booth after waiting 24 minutes in line, and then moseyed over to the mall to run a quick errand.