The day he’d circled on his calendar was off to a good start. “I’ve been looking forward to this since November,” said Truffer, a salesman from Severna Park making his first visit to the former all-slots casino in Cecil County.
Since voters approved a dramatic expansion of commercial gambling in the Free State, the buzz has been building over the introduction of live blackjack, craps and other table games.
Hollywood Casino, a 75,000-square-foot property just off Interstate 95 between Baltimore and Wilmington, opened for live-action betting business on Wednesday afternoon — a day ahead of schedule. Maryland Live, the airplane-terminal-size casino at Arundel Mills mall, will add table games April 11.
“Tables have been filling up as quickly as I can open them,” Anthony Ventura, Hollywood Casino’s table games manager, said Thursday.
And plenty of folks were clearly playing hooky from work to get in on the action. An entire table of blackjack players refused to be photographed on Thursday.
Casino officials declined to say how much revenue the new games generated on the first partial day of action. But the previous night, all 12 tables in the gaming pit were going — and there wasn’t an open seat to be found anywhere. Five of eight tables in the new poker room were running, too, Ventura said.
Business was even brisk in the wee hours: In addition to adding table games, the casino has added hours of operation and is now open all day, every day. The schedule change is so new that there were still hours-of-operation signs posted at the entrances Thursday.
“It’s been nonstop since I walked in the door,” said Anthony Graziano, a blackjack dealer whose shift began at 4 a.m. “We definitely could have used more tables. People want to play.”
He was inspecting and shuffling 16 new decks of cards. A man wondered whether he could sit down. “Sorry, this table is full metal jacket,” Graziano said.
Herbert Hawks had a $100 bill in his hand and was passing time until the roulette table opened.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in here,” Hawks said. “Usually, I just go to Delaware or Atlantic City.” He lives in Glen Burnie, near Baltimore. “Real close,” he said. Maybe too close. “A little too easy,” he said of the drive.
The state’s gaming regulators noted that this is National Problem Gambling Awareness Week.
Hollywood Casino was the state’s first slots hall, opening in September of 2010. At one point, the property had 1,500 slot machines; but demand didn’t quite match up. “We never completely filled up,” said marketing director Jennifer Miglionico. And business dropped when Maryland Live opened last June, about 45 miles away.
So the casino asked the state if it could remove some slots from its gaming floor even before the gambling referendum passed.
It now has 1,148 slots. “We’d like to get it to 1,000 eventually,” Miglionico said.
The 20 tables now stand where there were once slots.
The conversion will eventually result in about 140 new jobs — dealers mostly, but also extra security and servers and such. Some positions still need to be filled. Most of the dealers are new to the trade; the casino put more than 75 greenhorns through dealer school. Casino operators predict that the table games will generate 2,000 new jobs across the state.
Officials at Hollywood, whose parent company Penn National Gaming spent more than $40 million opposing the casino-expansion referendum, think table games will help attract a younger demographic, as well as new players such as Truffer who don’t play slots.
“It’s why I’d never come here before,” he said. “I like blackjack best.”
But after a promising start to his first session in his home state, the hospital lab equipment salesman was now losing. Hand after hand after hand.
He was dealt a queen and a two.
He got another two — for 14.
Another two — for 16.
“Give me a five!” he said.
Graziano gave him a nine. Truffer busted, losing $25 with 25.
“You needed that nine two twos ago,” Graziano said.
“Thanks,” Truffer said.
He wasn’t sure how long he planned to play. “That all depends on how I do,” he said. Within 90 minutes, he’d vanished.