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Maryland Live adds 1,043 gaming machines

The possibility of increasing competition and decreasing revenue hasn't slowed the Maryland Live! casino in Hanover.

Officials plan to unveil an additional 1,043 slot machines and electronic table games today, completing a $500 million casino that now ranks as the third-largest gaming destination in the country.

A room of high-limit slot machines, a retail store and a grand entrance also open to the public this morning.

"We've been after this for a long time and to be sitting here, on the eve of the completion of the casino, I couldn't be more excited," said Robert Norton, president of the casino at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover.

The additional slots open amid questions about the possibility that Maryland's gaming market is tapped out. Slots revenue from state casinos decreased more than 7 percent last month. And Hollywood Casino Perryville has announced plans to return machines because customer demand has fallen below expectations.

But Norton said he's confident about Maryland Live!

"We feel that our initial plan and initial performance is on track," he said. "We always intended to open in a phased approach and our performance has met those expectations."

Still, the casino's revenues in August decreased about 8.3 percent, or $2.9 million, from the month before.

The decrease was expected and reflects seasonal changes in gambling, according to Joe Weinberg, head of gaming and hospitality for The Cordish Cos., developer of Maryland Live!

When Maryland Live! opened in June, Hollywood Casino Perryville saw its business drop by 32 percent, and the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia saw a 20 percent decrease.

In Delaware, lawmakers expect their state's share of annual casino revenues to decrease by more than $20 million a year.

"Any state that's in this business has to deal with the reality of competition," said David Gregor of the Delaware Department of Finance. "I think Delaware has been pretty proactive in taking advantage of new opportunities."

Lawmakers there recently approved online gambling, and Gregor said they've been watching the progress of the casino at Arundel Mills mall.

"We did our best to gauge what (Maryland Live!) would mean for our venues," he said. "In fact, our numbers have slid a little."

Local lawmakers also are concerned about cannibalized revenue.

Most agree a Prince George's County casino at National Harbor, about 30 miles from Maryland Live!, would draw gamblers away from Anne Arundel County. Maryland Live! stands to lose an estimated 20 to 50 percent of its customer base, according to various projections.

Maryland Live! officials said many gamblers travel from Washington, D.C., Virginia and farther south to play the slots locally.

Voters statewide will decide Nov. 6 if Maryland will have a new casino, and also decide whether to add table games and 24-hour gambling to all the state's gaming facilities. But residents of Prince George's County can reject the casino for their jurisdiction, even if the measure wins a majority of the votes in the rest of the state.

The Cordish Cos. and many Anne Arundel lawmakers oppose the Prince George's casino, saying it would oversaturate the market. But The Cordish Cos. favors expanding gambling in the state to include table games such as blackjack.

When Maryland Live! opened June 6, its first phase included more than 3,000 slot machines, along with the casino's Live Market buffet, The Cheesecake Factory, Bobby's Burger Palace, Noodles and Baltimore-based Phillips Seafood. A ceremony was held in July for the opening of 531 additional slots and electronic table games.

Now, the 300,000 square-foot facility features about 4,750 slot machines, several bars, and the Rams Head Center Stage, an entertainment venue featuring nightly live music.

The stage opened last month with a private concert by The Charlie Daniels Band. The announced lineup of classic rock performers includes Foghat and a lead singer from Three Dog Night. Gamblers have said Maryland Live! will be a 24-hour party.

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