Arundel Mills casino attempts to set itself apart with electronic table games

Sprawling complex set to open at night on June 6

May 29, 2012|By Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun

Just beyond the entrance of the Maryland Live Casino, row and row of video slot machines clang and beep and flash, beckoning would-be gamblers to insert bills — or even a credit card.

Sprawling across a space larger than three typical Wal-Marts, the casino at Arundel Mills Mall, scheduled to open June 6, also features gaming consoles hooked into video feeds of real-time dice rolls, roulette wheel spins and card deck deals.

"We are really concentrated on turning it into a really dynamic environment," said Joe Weinberg, managing partner and president of gaming forthe Cordish Cos., the Baltimore-based development firm that built and operates the casino. The company offered a news media preview on Tuesday.

"You see the cards fly across the screen as they're dealt to you and you can see what the other players' cards are as well," he said. "The only difference is that you don't have a dealer."

Next Wednesday's launch of the state's largest casino ends one chapter of the casino's story, a four-year fight to get the Hanover facility built. The grand opening starts another chapter, promising new tax revenue for the state and legislative battles to halt proposals for live dealers and for a gaming development inPrince George's County.

There will be 3,200 electronic games when the casino's doors open next week, which will balloon to 4,750 machines by October. The 330,000-square-foot casino — just less than half of which will be dedicated to the games, the rest to restaurants and entertainment — cost $500 million and took years of wrangling with politicians, neighbors and other would-be casino operators.

Maryland Live faced several delays since the state constitution was amended to allow slots gambling in 2008.

A months-long court battle with the Maryland Jockey Club, which wanted Anne Arundel's only slots license directed to the Laurel Park race track, ended in 2010 with a voter referendum. County residents affirmed Cordish's right to construct a casino at the mall.

Then permit appeals, filed by neighboring residents and a nearby retailer, delayed construction again.

Opponents argued to the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals that traffic would be a problem at the site, which is right off Route 100 and already had heavy traffic because of the mall. In February of last year, the opponents withdrew their appeals and Cordish was allowed to continue construction.

"Best of luck to our new neighbors," said Rob Annicelli, one of the casino's main opponents, by phone Tuesday. He still owns a residence near Arundel Mills but now lives in Virginia, he said, and no longer opposes the casino.

Although opposition faded, Cordish was forced to scrap plans for a temporary casino in favor of speeding up construction for the permanent facility.

More traffic around Arundel Mills seems inevitable.

Maryland Live's 5,000-car garage envelopes the casino and offers free parking. And, Weinberg said, there will be 15,000 people inside the casino on a good night. But those new cars should be absorbed into the area's more efficient traffic patterns, he said.

Cordish spent about $10 million improving the roads around mall, including a new "diverging diamond interchange," which replaced a traffic circle with travel lanes controlled by stoplights, adding new signage, turn lanes and widening streets, he said.

"What we've done has paved the way for future growth in the area," Weinberg said.

Maryland Live will be the state's third operating casino. Smaller casinos have opened in Perryville and Berlin. A facility in Western Maryland, at Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Allegany, and a casino in Baltimore also are planned.

Aaron Meisner, a Guilford resident who fought against slots gaming as coordinating chairman of the now-dissolved group StopSlotsMaryland, said he is "very pessimistic" about what the opening of Maryland Live will mean in terms of addiction and other social problems. He also said he fears local politicians have already lost control over the gambling industry.

"That's what you have to look forward to moving forward: social issues and a continuation of this gridlock in Annapolis over expansion," he said. "My argument early on was once you had slots, you'd be completely unable to overcome the amount of lobbying dollars that would flood into Annapolis."

In a special session tentatively set for mid-July, the General Assembly will discuss two gambling issues: Whether a sixth casino, at National Harbor in Prince George's County, should be built and whether human dealers should be allowed.

Cordish opposes a casino at National Harbor because it wasn't anticipated years ago when Maryland Live's business plan was written and will cut into the Hanover location's clientele, Weinberg said.

Maryland Live is ready to replace its electronic table games with human dealers. The machines dealing cards and rolling dice on camera for the electronic table games aren't the same, but not for lack of trying.

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