“Everybody’s been talking about it,” he said at the front of the line, an hour before casino officials said the words he’d been waiting all morning to hear: “Shuffle up and deal.”
As it turned out, Hannigan missed the announcement. He stepped out of the split-level, 52-table room for a smoke just before noon and missed his first hand in the state-of-the-art room that has poker players around the region buzzing.
Maryland’s largest casino — at the Arundel Mills mall in Hanover — spent about $20 million to build, equip and staff the 24-hour poker room.
By noon, the line to get in was hundreds of people long. By 1 p.m., with 160 players seated, more than 1,000 people were waiting to get in on the action in the 520-player room.
“We’re makin’ history,” said Rick Baker, who made the drive from Alexandria and wound up at Hannigan’s table, where they played no-limit Texas hold’em with $1 and $2 blinds (mandatory bets) and a minimum buy-in of $100 ($300 maximum).
Baker, who owns a water-treatment company, said he had been playing poker “a few years.” Meaning? “Forty, maybe more,” he said. “I really enjoy the game.”
He was thrilled to be able to play less than an hour from home and said he probably wouldn’t return to other places he’s played, including Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va., and the Borgata in Atlantic City. “I see no reason to,” he said.
Many of the first players Wednesday said they were regulars — or semi-regulars — at other casinos in the region: Charles Town, Delaware Park and Hollywood Casino in Perryville, which began offering Maryland’s first casino poker games in March. But that appeared likely to change as poker players declared that they planned to log significant hours at Maryland Live.
The size of the room (one of the largest on the East Coast); the amenities (phone chargers built into the table legs, masseuses wandering the room and safety deposit boxes for high-stakes players); and the critical mass (the casino is between Baltimore and Washington) were just too appealing, players said.
“This is going to be my base,” said Jeremy McLaughlin, a professional poker player from Capitol Hill. “The action is going to be incredible. ”
McLaughlin won an online contest to play at the first table Wednesday. (A limited number of players participated in a controlled demonstration for state regulators Monday.)
The chosen 10 jumped the line and bought in for $200 or $300 each for the kick-off game: $1-$2 no-limit hold’em. Before the first hand, the players discussed whether to check it down, meaning no raises, no folds, no real action.
Mike Stein, a software engineer from Virginia, put the kibosh on that plan. “I’m going to play honestly; sorry, but I’m going to be that guy,” he said. There was a good reason to play the hand, Stein said. The casino already had slots and, as of April, live-action table games. “But we’ve all been waiting for poker,” he said. “And poker is different. It’s a strategy game.”