Outside 3rd Md. casino, gambling debate lingers. Inside, it’s a whir of flashing lights.
By John Wagner,
From the outside, it looks like a theater as big as an airport terminal. There are no dancing fountains or indoor Venetian waterways, but it is clear from the moment you walk into Maryland Live! that this is as Vegas as Maryland gets.
The new casino, in fact, will have more slot machines — nearly 5,000 — than any on the Las Vegas strip or in Atlantic City and nearly as many as any casino in the country. The burgers will be oversize. The bar isn’t just a bar but a “high-tech lounge” that, according to promotional materials, will offer “a full immersion into video, light and sound.” And then there’s that exclamation point on the end of “Live!”
Whatever one thinks of the merits of Maryland’s long-running gambling debate, next week’s scheduled opening of its largest casino will leave no doubt about which side won Round 1.
The new facility, at Arundel Mills in Anne Arundel County, just a few minutes from Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, will be the third slots venue to open in Maryland since voters authorized five locations in 2008.
But with plans for 4,750 slot machines and electronic table games, “Live!” — as the massive red script lettering on the casino’s exterior advertise — is larger than the other facilities combined. And neither of the earlier arrivals, in Cecil and Worcester counties, is nearly as accessible to the region’s population centers of the District and Baltimore.
Next week’s opening could factor heavily into Round 2 of the state’s gambling debate. That centers over whether there are enough gamblers in the region to add a sixth venue, most likely at National Harbor in neighboring Prince George’s County.
The prospect will be the focus of intense discussion between now and early July, when Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has said he would like to call a special legislative session to resolve the issue.
“We think it’s insane not to get all the authorized facilities up and running, stabilized and see how they’re doing first,” said Joe Weinberg, managing partner of Cordish Cos., the casino’s developer, who gave a few dozen members of the media a preview of his facility Tuesday afternoon.
Boosters of a Prince George’s facility, including County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), say that the region can accommodate another similarly sized facility and that the state can come up with a fair solution for Cordish and others who might lose some business.
Maryland Live!, which opens to the public June 6 at the fashionably late hour of 10 p.m., is in a standalone building with a massive new parking deck sitting above it. The casino is just outside the food court of the sprawling mall, which already features dozens of outlet shops, a 24-screen movie theater and numerous family-friendly restaurants.
Within a few minutes of entering Maryland Live!, it’s easy to forget you’re at a shopping mall — or to get any sense of the time of day.
There is little natural light. The ceilings are dark, and much of the carpeting is a pattern of chocolate brown, dark red and other colors that could hide bottles’ worth of wine stains. But with all those lights bursting from the slots, who’s going to be looking at the floor?
“One-armed bandits” these are not. Instead, many feature video screens that are as likely to feature buxom Playboy bunnies and the cast from “Sex and the City” as a row of 7s. On some banks of games, an image of the Ed Helms character, with a missing tooth, from the movie “The Hangover” beckons players.
Maryland Live! also offers dozens of newfangled electronic table games, including blackjack, craps and roulette. The rules of the game are much like the real thing, but there are no dealers, chips or cards involved, so the machines are legal in Maryland’s slots-only facilities.
Maryland Live! officials pressed that point on Tuesday, demonstrating for TV cameras an automated roulette wheel and a dice-shaking contraption.
The issue of whether Maryland should allow live table games is another that will play out in coming weeks. A bill that passed the state Senate during this year’s 90-day legislative session called for a public vote on allowing both a sixth gaming site in Prince George’s and table games at the state’s five existing slots sites.
Some — including Cordish — would like the legislature to separate those issues if a special session is held. Cordish says that the state should legalize table games now at existing facilities and leave the question of a sixth casino for another time.
As it stands, the casino says it will employ 1,500 people. Live table games would create an additional 800 jobs, Weinberg said.
Although the gaming floor appeared largely complete Tuesday, the whir of construction continued at several of the restaurants that will ring its perimeter.
A couple of the restaurants, including the Prime Rib, an upscale steakhouse, will not open with the rest of the facility June 6. That is also true of Rams Head Center Stage, a 500-seat concert venue inside the casino. It’s expected to debut in the fall.
Additional banks of slot machines will also be open to the public at that point, bringing the total to 4,750 from the opening-day plan of about 3,200.