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Well into Phase Two, Maryland Live! Moves Forward and Braces for Referendum

Oct 03, 2012 08:11PM ● By Anonymous

However, there was a caveat. That caveat concerned the possibility of another huge casino being approved by the state legislature to be located less than an hour away at another Maryland crown jewel of development, National Harbor.

While legislators had initially rejected the idea of building a sixth state casino at National Harbor, the mood has changed. After a special session that was arranged to address the issue of adding the casino and table games to the gambling mix statewide, the state Senate passed the controversial gambling bill 32-24, late on a mid-July night.

The issue is now in the hands of Maryland’s voters, who will make their preference known in a referendum on November’s ballot.

OH, WHAT A NIGHT

As for that memorable first night, Maryland Live! opened to more gamers than anyone involved seemed to have anticipated. With that tremendous buzz came various casino-inspired traffic issues, including the backup of the northbound lane of the Baltimore- Washington Parkway for about 15 miles; while drivers on Route 100 also experienced considerable gridlock.

To add to the craziness of the night, the State Highway Administration’s new diverging diamond interchange at the parkway and Arundel Mills Boulevard was not entirely complete by the time the event started. And inside the building were some long lines, with a bit of confusion that is somewhat expected at such occasions. But, all told, it was an evening anyone who was there won’t forget.

THE STORY

As for Cordish, the Baltimore-based developer was on hand for the Maryland Live! VIP party that began three hours before the doors opened. It came off in grand fashion, despite the already looming threat of the special session.

About a week after the casino opened, analysts from the state’s Department of Legislative Services (DLS) told a state gaming group assembled by Gov. Martin O’Malley that allowing a casino to be built at National Harbor would cut into the market share at Maryland Live!

Those analysts also told the group that if the Maryland General Assembly legalizes table games (which would add 800 to 1,000 new positions at Maryland Live!), it would not only recoup any shortfalls for the Arundel Mills operation, but would earn more money than originally predicted.

However, should the state’s casinos remain limited to just slot machines, the group predicted that a new facility at National Harbor “would [have reduced] revenues at Maryland Live! by $112 million to $125 million,” says Warren Deschenaux, director of policy analysis at the DLS. Deschenaux also says that the state would earn an additional $100 million if the sixth casino is approved and table games are added.

ON THE OTHER HAND

Though noting his support for table games, Joe Weinberg, managing partner of The Cordish Companies, cast doubt on the DLS findings.

“Everyone has been led to believe that Pricewaterhouse Gaming Group would be delivering the [results of] an independent consultant’s report,” says Weinberg. “Regretfully, at [the] hearing of the work group, [the DLS] testified as to their own conclusions, and there would be no independent consultant’s report for the work group or anyone else to examine.”

Pointing to DLS estimates that he called “too high” for Ocean Downs (“by 50 percent”) and Perryville (“a double-digit amount”), he discussed the “unreliability” of DLS numbers that were presented in the regular legislative session to both the House and Senate Committees, “to the effect that a casino at National Harbor would only affect Baltimore City and Maryland Live! to the extent of a 10 percent decrease in their revenues. Today, a few months later, DLS raised its estimate of loss of revenues to 25 percent for Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County casinos.

“The unreliability of projections is the exact reason why no other state in the history of the U.S. has ever expanded gambling locations prior to the initial designees being open and stable, so that reliable data could be ascertained,” says Weinberg.

ON THE FLOOR

The most recent numbers, before press time, reveal that Maryland Live! paid more than $23.7 million in gaming taxes to the state after its first full month of operation in July; 2012 taxes were based on the state’s 67 percent portion of $35,408,769.62 in gaming revenue generated by the facility; with a win per machine, per day, of approximately $350.

While stakeholders were encouraged by the Maryland Live! take, Weinberg expressed doubt about the facility reaching its goals for the future if a new National Harbor casino rises. “Our revenues continue to be in line with our projections,” says Weinberg. “Of great significance, the state’s overall July casino revenues clearly demonstrate over-saturation is already a serious problem for Maryland. Even with Maryland Live! only partially open and Baltimore City not open at all, July revenues at Hollywood Casino Perryville [which has asked the state to remove 400 to 500 slot machines, one-third of its total, from the location] were down 32.4 percent as a result of competition from Maryland Live!. And the Perryville facility is located over 50 miles from [Arundel Mills].”

What kinds of numbers will be posted after the $500 million, 330,000-square-foot casino is finished this fall at Arundel Mills, which was already attracting more than 14 million visitors annually before the casino opened? No one can say for sure, but more than a few observers with a professional interest are looking forward to finding out, given the early numbers, what the total impact of Maryland Live! will be.

They’re hoping for big payouts for Anne Arundel County and the state, with the casino having already added 531 additional slot machines and electronic table games this past July. In mid- September, Maryland Live! celebrated the completion of the 2 million-square-foot casino with the addition of the final 1,043 slots and electronic tables games, including a High Limit slots room. That brings the total to 4,750 slots under roof. That makes Maryland Live! the third largest casino in the United States. Upon completion, it will employ 1,500 workers.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Living up to its billing as an entertainment complex (which hosted approximately 500,000 people during its first 24 days of operation), Maryland Live! also debuted Bobby’s Burger Palace, Market Live!, Noodles, and state stalwart Phillips Seafood on opening night. The Cheesecake Factory opened the following week.

Today, with its initial roar having calmed to a lower hum, the second chapter of the Maryland Live! story is being written. This fall, its capacity will rise from about 12,000 “to whatever is deemed safe by the Anne Arundel County Fire Marshall,” says casino spokesperson Carmen Gonzales, who added that its 5,000-car parking garage has also been completed.

Today’s news concerns two local favorites: The Prime Rib steak house and the latest offering under the Rams Head banner, Rams Head Center Stage. The latter has opened a 500-seat performance venue and bar that features local and national acts.

The Charlie Daniels Band played the first show at the venue on August 30th, with other nationally known headliners entertaining gamers and other comers in September, including Sister Hazel, Chuck Negron (from Three Dog Night), Foghat, and Patty Smyth & Scandal.

Other local acts will appear on the performance list as the venue builds its audience and aims to become entrenched in an area with a well-developed concert market. Finally, by November, famed local steakhouse, The Prime Rib, will open its doors to round out the Maryland Live! experience.

But will the saga of gaming in Maryland have reached a temporary conclusion in November? Or will it be the beginning of a new chapter? Stay tuned.