Maryland Casino Opens to Long Lines, Glitter and Controversy

By: - June 8, 2012 12:00 am

Maryland’s third and largest casino, Maryland Live!, opened this week amid glittery showgirls, a woman dressed as a giant dessert table, a gaggle of politicians, lines of eager gamblers stretched outside the building and the cacophony of 3,200 fully engaged slot machines and electronic gaming tables — music to a battered economy.

One of the largest in the country, the $500 million, 330,000-square-foot casino outside of Baltimore has been a long time coming, as described by The Washington Post, having survived a public referendum, a zoning dispute and intense debate over the role of gambling in the state. Two more casinos are slated to open in Allegany County and in downtown Baltimore.

These days, casinos are a hot-button issue in Maryland, as they are around the rest of the country, as states scramble to find ways to increase revenues. Last month, Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed a commission to explore adding a sixth casino in Prince George’s County in the National Harbor. The proposed venue has its detractors, including county lawmakers and Maryland Live! developers, who complain that an additional casino in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore metro area would drastically cut into their profits.

Another item on the Maryland work group’s docket: exploring the legalization of live, Las Vegas-style table games. A special legislative session may be scheduled for July to address both the sixth casino and legalizing table games before possibly putting them up on the November ballot. Expanding into this type of gambling would require a constitutional amendment, according to Stephen Martino, Maryland Lottery director.

Joseph Weinberg, a Maryland Live! developer, told The Post that the newly minted casino would be “the number one taxpayer in the entire state,” adding more than $1 million each day to state coffers.

Other casinos around the country haven’t lived up to such enthusiastic projections, as Stateline has reported. But Martino says that Maryland Live! should perform as expected — maybe because there are no other casinos in the DC/Maryland area, or perhaps because Maryland taxes its gaming operations at a whopping 67 percent, the Baltimore Sun noted.

This week, the Maryland Lottery announced revenue numbers for its two other casinos — Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County and the Casino at Ocean Downs in Worcester County. The combined statewide revenue in May 2012 totaled $14.6 million, an increase of about $1.3 million over May 2011, or 9.5 percent.

“Obviously, the opening of Maryland Live! is significant,” says Martino of Maryland gaming. ”It’s going to mean a tremendous amount of revenue to the state.”

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Teresa Wiltz

Teresa Wiltz covers welfare, housing and social services for Stateline. Previously, she worked for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.