Maryland Live! opening draws thousands -- Gazette.Net


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The state’s largest casino officially opened its doors to thousands of gamblers Wednesday night, resulting in lines that stretched well down the side of the Arundel Mills shopping mall and bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles.

Visitors to the grand opening of the Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover were greeted by a dizzying, even surreal, array of flashing lights and electronic sound effects from the more than 3,000 machines at the casino, which includes both slots and virtual table games such as blackjack and poker.

Near the entrance, women wearing stilts and long, sequined dresses towered over the crowd, while performers in neon-colored, alien-like masks and costumes occupied a dance floor toward the back.

The event also drew a crowd of VIP guests, including a number of state lawmakers.

“If you look at how many people are around outside, it’s an incredible opening. I was very impressed,” said Del. Frank Turner (D-Dist. 13) of Columbia, who chairs the House subcommittee on gaming issues. “I think it’s going to do a lot to create revenue for the state.”

Turner, who joked that he had some luck at the slot machines that night but “nothing to retire on,” is part of an 11-member work group meeting this month to discuss whether table games should be allowed in the state and a sixth casino site established in Prince George’s County.

David Cordish, developer of Maryland Live! Casino, urged members of the group June 1 not to recommend adding another site until the five existing venues are up and running.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III (D) has pitched the riverside National Harbor development as the site for a high-end casino that would draw gamblers from Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

The operators of Maryland Live! project that a Prince George’s site could reduce their market share by about 40 percent.

On Tuesday, the work group is scheduled to receive the results of a study of the state’s gaming market from financial analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“If the best deal is to not move forward [with expansion] at this time, and that’s their recommendation, then that’s what we should do,” Turner said. “We have to look seriously at what they recommend. I’m very much looking forward to what they say.”

But the debate about saturated markets may not make a difference to the customers.

Joyce Ajayi of Camp Springs said she would be happy to have a casino in Prince George’s because it would be just five minutes from her home.

Ajayi said she got in line outside the new casino at 6 p.m., despite the fact that doors weren’t scheduled to open to the general public until 10 p.m. She was hardly the only one.

Robert Norton, president and general manager of the casino, estimated Wednesday night that more than 10,000 people had shown up for the opening.

“It’s a great turnout,” Norton said. “It couldn’t have gone better.”

Norton said there already had been several jackpot wins of at least $1,200, and casino staff confirmed at about 10:30 p.m. that there had been one win of $6,100 during an invitation-only cocktail reception earlier that night.

When fully operational — including an additional 1,500 machines expected later this year — Maryland Live! could generate as much as $400 million a year in tax revenue, officials said.

So far in fiscal 2012, Maryland’s two other casinos have generated $153.7 million in gross revenues. Hollywood Casino in Perryville, which has 1,500 machines, has brought in $110.1 million, while the Casino at Ocean Downs in Berlin, which has 750 machines, has garnered $43.6 million, according to the state lottery.

dleaderman@gazette.net