Caesars now will build a higher-end Horseshoe-brand casino rather than a Harrah's on the Baltimore site near M&T Bank Stadium that will focus on table games such as poker and black jack.
The Horseshoe brand appeals to a younger crowd, analysts say. Caesars officials have gushed about the urban vibe of the Baltimore project and the possible synergy with nearby stadiums and neighborhoods. Thursday's announcement cemented the group's intentions of marketing the property as a more vibrant and hip alternative to its primary competition, the giant Maryland Live Casino located in the parking lot of a suburban mall in Hanover.
Horseshoe has a reputation, especially in the South and Midwest, as a "value-for-your-money" brand with its cowboy-inspired atmosphere, said William R. Eadington, a professor of economics at the University of Nevada and director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming. Harrah's, he said, has a tendency to be more staid.
Horseshoe is supposed to be a step above Harrah's, said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. But the Horseshoe brand is missing from Caesars biggest markets, including Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J. Caesars hasn't established a clear distinction among its brands, he said. "It's very nebulous right now."
"It's going to be very important for Caesars to build a unique presence that is going to be appealing to a particular niche," said James Karmel, a professor at Harford Community College who tracks the gambling industry. "What you have in a competitive environment, which Maryland is becoming, is particular casinos appealing to segments of the gaming crowd."
While the structure Caesars plans to build on Russell Street won't change much, the exterior finishes will be re-thought, said John Payne, one of Caesars two presidents. New plans will need to be presented to the city's architectural review board, but construction still should begin early next year, he said.
Horseshoe Baltimore is expected to cost $400 million and open in the middle of 2014. The company now will employ at least 1,700 people at the casino.
"Today's announcement by Caesars Entertainment, coming on the heels of the passage of Question 7, is great news for Baltimore," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in a statement. "The addition of table games allows Caesars to build a larger and more exciting casino in the city, which will result in creating hundreds of more good-paying jobs for area residents and a greater capital investment in our downtown. A larger, more competitive facility only strengthens Baltimore's opportunities to create jobs, fund education and reduce property taxes for city homeowners."
Payne and Chad Barnhill, general manager of the Baltimore casino, offered few details Thursday and said Caesars had done only "legwork" on the switch from a Harrah's brand to Horseshoe. They said it would take several weeks to determine how the building's interior structure will change, though they anticipate adding more amenities to accommodate larger crowds.
They've yet to decide how many restaurants will be included, but they do plan on meeting with local restaurateurs to see if any are interested and would be a good fit. New plans also will include a theater seating at least 500 people.
The finish of the casino will be upgraded, Barnhill said, with a "richness" created by dark woods similar to those used in other Horseshoe casinos.
Only seven of the company's 39 U.S. casinos carry the Horseshoe brand. Harrah's bought the original Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas — known as the birthplace of the World Series of Poker — in 2004, but quickly sold the building and Binion name, retaining the Horseshoe name and the poker series. It later purchased Caesars.
Two of the company's most recent urban projects were Horseshoe casinos in Cleveland, which opened in May, and Cincinnati, scheduled to open next spring.
Payne said the company would offer every table game allowed by Maryland law and predicted between 80 and 110 tables in addition to the poker room.
The company still plans to buy all 3,750 video lottery terminals it has been allotted, but that, too, will be studied. The Horseshoe in Cleveland recently removed 200 slot machines and hopes to add more table games, which proved more popular there.
Caesars has parlayed the Horseshoe brand's history into a reputation for creating high-stakes, high-action gambling rooms, said Gregg Klein, a gaming industry analyst with Imperial Capital.
The brand's slogan is "Home of the Best Odds, Highest Limits & Biggest Jackpots." The Horseshoe in Cleveland has a $10,000 limit on all of its tables; at its other facilities, the limits can go well above that.