High-tech gambling at Maryland’s casinos

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Glenda C. Booth
Patrons try their luck at some of Maryland Live!’s 3,200 slot machines. By October, the casino, located at Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, Md., will grow to the size of three football fields with 4,750 machines, making it one of the largest casinos in the country.
Photo courtesy of Maryland Live!

The flashing lights of the cavernous compounds lure you in, then the promise of instant riches, jackpots, bonanzas and sweepstakes captures your imagination, as a dizzying array of sparkly numbers and images flash across row upon row of slot machines.

And that’s the whole point of a casino, isn’t it? To engulf you, engage all your senses, and entice you to take a chance with your money.

Without the reality checks of windows or clocks — and amid a steady din of throbbing music and bleeping machines, where it’s too loud to hear your cell phone — you can easily lose track of the day, time and, perhaps, your worries as thousands of slot machines roll, clang and flash, feeding your fantasies of hitting the perfect get-rich-quick combination.

Since Maryland voters passed a ballot initiative in 2008 to allow up to five casinos with slot machines in the state, three have opened: Hollywood Casino in Perryville (Cecil County), Ocean Downs in Berlin (near Ocean City), and most recently, Maryland Live! in Hanover, next to Arundel Mills Mall.

The state lottery agency is working with developers of two more yet to come: one at Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County, which has just been awarded its license and is slated to open late next year with 850 slot machines, and a much larger one in Baltimore City, currently at the proposal stage, expected to have 3,750 slot machines and a 4,000-car garage.

A sixth gambling site — in Prince George’s County, at National Harbor on the Potomac — remains under consideration, with Governor O’Malley still calling for a special legislative session this summer to get the proposal on the November ballot.

Gambling appeals to the state because of the high tax revenues the casinos bring in. During May alone (before Maryland Live! opened), Hollywood Casino and Ocean Downs raked in $14 million, half of which went to the Maryland Education Trust Fund. Maryland Live! is expected to bring Maryland $400 million in tax revenue each year.

Maryland Live!

Maryland Live!, the area’s newest casino, is located at Arundel Mills Mall just south of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

It seeks to “give customers a ‘wow’ experience every time they visit,” said Joseph Weinberg, managing partner of its developer, the Cordish Companies, at the grand opening on June 6. More than 10,000 people flooded through the doors for the 10 p.m.(!) opening, many having sweated through clogged traffic for miles.

Managers boast that Maryland Live! is one of the largest casinos in the country, and that there are 1,400 hotel rooms within a mile.

Sprawling across 160,000 square feet to serve up to 12,000 gamblers, the casino currently has 3,200 Las Vegas-style slot machines plus electronic table games, like Blackjack, roulette, mini-baccarat and Pai Gow poker. Slot machines are emblazoned with names like “Stinkin’ Rich,” “Queen of the Wild,” “Instant Riches” and “Three Alarm Fire.”

By October, when Maryland Live! is fully open, the casino will stretch to the size of three football fields with 4,750 machines, more than almost any other gambling palace in the country. Even in its current configuration, it’s hard to see an outside wall. The slot machines seem to go on forever.

Casino-goers can chomp a burger at Bobby’s Burger Palace (by celebrity chef Bobby Flay), grab takeout at Phillips Seafood, or have a more relaxed dining break from the one-armed (actually, push-button) bandits and clatter of casino central at the Live! Market Buffet.

The buffet bulges with seafood, pasta, salads, Asian cuisine, rich desserts and more, much of it purchased fresh locally. The Prime Rib restaurant is coming, and the 500-seat Rams Head Center Stage will open soon for live nightly entertainment.

From the mammoth dangly chandelier of color-changing LED lights, at the entrance, to the interactive R Bar (R for round) where you can bet while you sip, Maryland Live! is an electronic gambling extravaganza. Officials like to point out the automated roulette wheel and video blackjack (with no dealer) as modern advances in gaming.

Slots players who get nostalgic can opt for electronic Monopoly or Wheel of Fortune, as tunes like “Boys Just Wanna Have Fun” boom across the gambling floor.

At Maryland Live! you can place bets from one cent to $100. What are people winning? Officials closely guard statistics on what is ventured and what is gained, but Carmen Gonzales, director of communications, said that “there have been several $10,000 jackpots lately and at least one $50,000 jackpot.”

Maryland Live! also has what owners say is the gaming industry’s first play-for-fun online casino at www.Myliveonlinecasino.com, a free website for playing slots and table games and winning “virtual credits.”

“Maryland Live! provides visitors with a total entertainment experience filled with shopping, dining, gaming and nightlife,” tout the casino’s press releases. Hence the omnipresent exclamation point.

At Maryland Live! a devoted bettor from Bethesda said she was there because “I don’t have to think. You can come for a few hours and forget your problems,” as she headed to the “Instant Riches” machine.

Non-gambling companions can shop in more than 200 stores at the Arundel Mills Mall right next door.

 

Perryville, Md.’s Hollywood Casino, about 40 miles north of Baltimore, boasts 1,500 slot machines and a décor focused on silver screen stars of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Photo courtesy of Hollywood Casino

Hollywood Casino

Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Md., just off Interstate 95, has a 75,000-square-foot gaming floor and 1,500 flickering, coinless slot machines bearing names like “Wild Shootout,” “Sabertooth,” “Arctic Spirit,” “Dragon’s Temple” and “Wild Stampede.”

Hollywood Casino, a Penn National Gaming facility 40 miles north of Baltimore, transports you to Tinseltown to have fun with the stars. The décor showcases stars and starlets, with considerable emphasis on 1950s and 1960s beauties like Marilyn Monroe and Kathryn Hepburn. Some slot machines have images of popular vintage television shows such as “I Love Lucy,” “Rawhide,” “Hee Haw,” “Tarzan” and “Gunsmoke.”

The video poker game draws you into a semi-circular table wrapped around a video screen from which a slim, gently-smiling young woman, cleavage amply displayed, leans over to “deal” the cards. She’s just a pretend, “virtual” card dealer, but she makes coquettish eye contact from her video screen with the real players, as her hands disappear downward and virtual poker cards appear for the players. Welcome to electronic poker.

A major highlight of this casino is the centerpiece in the main restaurant — a ceiling-high glass case displaying replicas from the movie Titanic, with a jumble of plates, lamps, wine glasses and the blue diamond necklace dropped into the sea.

But any sinking feeling is counteracted by the ever-present promise of riches. “Every machine has a different payback,” said Amy Young, advertising manager. “Some pay back 95 cents on the dollar, some more, some less.”

On some days, Hollywood awards big prizes like trucks, a new Mustang, or cash up to $75,000. One day this spring, the casino gave away 2,000 camping chairs.

When I asked a woman walking into the casino around 6:30 p.m. on a recent Friday night why she had come to the casino, she said without hesitation, “It’s mindless.” After a long work week, she drove to Perryville from Baltimore for what her friend called “a release.”

Every Saturday night local musicians entertain. If you don’t want to gamble, you can check out the gift shop or eat. The Epic Buffet teems with many choices of seafood, vegetables and desserts (even sugarless ones). One lady’s dinner was a pile of clams and New Zealand mussels. The Extra Grill has food to go, like sandwiches, wraps and fries.

The gift shop sells jewelry, knickknacks and some locally-made items like Belle’s Acres goat milk lotion with a baby powder aroma. The Perryville Outlet Center, with 20 stores nearby, can provide a break from the slots.

More gaming details

Slots are the main attraction at both casinos. (Las Vegas-style table games with live dealers are prohibited by Maryland law at the moment, though allowing all of Maryland’s slot locations to offer table games is being considered in conjunction with the efforts to allow a sixth casino at National Harbor.)

Casino-goers get “loyalty” rewards cards allowing them to earn points as they play. Points can be used for dining or playing more. At Maryland Live!, 3,000 points translates into $5. Both also have promotions and hotel partners that offer some discounts.

In a distinct contrast with Las Vegas, the main floor at both casinos has a no smoking policy. Maryland Live! has a balcony smoking deck; Hollywood a smoking room. And of course, both have convenient ATMs.

Maryland Live! is located at Arundel Mills Mall, 7002 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover, Md., www.marylandlivecasino.com. Hours are Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 a.m.

Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has buses that run to Arundel Mills Mall and service the casino. Visit http://mta.maryland.gov/ride-mta-maryland-live. You can also take a bus or taxi from the BWI airport’s Amtrak station.

Hollywood Casino is located at 1201 Chesapeake Overlook Parkway, Perryville, Md., www.hollywoodcasinoperryville.com. It is open Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 a.m.

During the week, visitors can take the MARC train to Perryville, a two-hour ride on the Penn Line, and then ride the blue LINK bus or take a taxi two to three miles. The last train leaves Perryville at 6:25 p.m. This is a commuter train, so there is no weekend train service. Some Harford Transit LINK bus and Cecil Transit buses stop at the casino. Visit http://www.hollywoodcasinoperryville.com/~/media/Perryville/Documents/harfordtealroute.ashx.

Glenda C. Booth is a freelance writer in Alexandria, Va.