Maryland Live! casino opens to thousands of eager gamblers at Arundel Mills

Ladies and gentlemen, start your slots!'

As Maryland Live! Casino went live late Wednesday, opening amid much hoopla — and hooting — at Arundel Mills mall, Carolyn Borges-Forte of Northeast Washington was the first gambler to come through the doors.

She ambled into the enormous slots hall like a shopper chasing a Black Friday door-buster.

“Yeaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!” she shouted, her arms raised high. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s GO!”

After waiting outside for either seven, nine or 11 hours (depending on who was asking), Borges-Forte, 61, hurried inside and . . . waited in another line. She needed one of the casino’s rewards cards to earn free stuff, she said. “I’m not a big-time gambler,” she said. “But I like to play.”

Apparently, she’d come to the right place. Maryland Live! is the state’s largest casino, not to mention the only one with an exclamation point in its name. Everywhere that Borges-Forte looked inside, there were automated games.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I love it in here.”

Outside, the line stretched north, past the casino’s main entrance — still under construction — and the Children’s Place store and Modell’s, and then snaked halfway around the mall, to the Bass Pro Shop. Thousands of impatient gamblers and eager looky-loos had come from Laurel and Laytonsville, from Capitol Heights and Clifton, and from Baltimore and the District, too.

By midnight, every machine seemed to be in use — save for the few that malfunctioned — and security held the line outside. The casino — whose capacity is about 12,000 — had become too crowded. 

Hours before the opening, as workers re-squeegeed the glass doors and double-checked thousands of light bulbs, Pamela Parson stood behind the barricade, itching to break in the slot machines.

“I’ll play all of them,” the Baltimore woman declared. Maybe not all: There were 3,200 slots and other electronic games of chance set up for opening night — penny slots, dollar slots, $100 slots, with a dizzying array of themes and designs, from “Vampire’s Embrace,” “Village People” and “Big Vegas” to “Bank Buster,” “Michelangelo” and “Dirty Dancing.”

Parson got in line more than five hours before the public was allowed in. “I want to experience the newness of it,” she said as the line grew behind her. “And I want to see if I can win some of those million dollars they got in there.”

Maryland Live! is a $500 million bet by the Cordish Cos. that the Baltimore-Washington region is ready for an Atlantic City-style casino, complete with a celebrity chef (Bobby Flay was there Wednesday to hand out milkshakes at Bobby’s Burger Palace), concert hall (the 500-seat Rams Head Center Stage opening later this year) and an “interactive” watering hole (R Bar, on top of which a showgirl danced in front of two enormous television screens showing sports).

There’s also the gambling: By fall, when construction on the 330,000-square-foot building is completed, it will have 4,750 machines, more than almost any other casino in the country.

The third of five approved slots casinos to open in the state — and the first near Baltimore and Washington — Maryland Live! Casino arrived amid an ongoing debate over a sixth proposed gambling hall, most likely at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.

Cordish, whose project was delayed by a lengthy zoning debate and public referendum in Anne Arundel County, told a panel created by Gov. Martin O’Malley that its property would lose about 40 percent of its gambling revenue if a similar, high-end casino opened in the region.

Lawmakers are also considering whether to allow live table games in the state, where the automated-casino program was approved in 2007.

But all of that was just background noise Wednesday, as the blipping, bleeping sound of electronic slots — and electronic dance music — began to fill the casino, first at a VIP party, where politicians mingled with contractors, and women in spangly showgirl outfits wandered the casino floor.

So, too, did Michelle Scott, whose dress doubled as a dessert table. She wasn’t moving much — “the carpet makes it difficult,” she said, noting that there were wheels on the table legs hidden beneath the red tufts of her dress. Also, everybody wanted pictures and Scott’s chocolate truffles.

At a photo booth near the Dia de Muertos slots, people posed with a “fire pixie” in a red catsuit and flame-colored wig. Black-clad stilt-walkers stumbled past, looking like giant insects. Serious-looking men with earpieces flittered about. The slots whizzed and hummed.

There was a raw bar and beef-carving station in the high-limit room, where men in suits and women in cocktail dresses sat at the roulette-baccarat-
sic-bo machines to eat.

“The one thing we like better than a good fight is a great party,” Cordish managing partner Joe Weinberg said at the ribbon-cutting shortly before the doors opened. “That’s what Maryland Live! Casino is going to be from here on out.” He also noted that the project would be a cash cow for Maryland — “the number one taxpayer in the entire state,” he said, sending more than $1  million per day to the comptroller.

The casino opens at 8 a.m. daily — slots, they’re what’s for breakfast — and closes (yes, it eventually closes) at 2 a.m. except on weekends when it stays open to 4 a.m.

Bettors can play for as little as a penny — or as much as $100. Hit the $250,000 jackpot on the Triple Diamond $100 slot machine in the high-roller room, and you could probably wipe out the men’s department at the nearby Burlington Coat Factory.

J. Freedom du Lac is the editor of The Post's general assignment news desk. He was previously a Local enterprise reporter and, before that, the paper’s pop music critic.
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