The company that spent $42 million in a failed attempt to block expanded gambling in Maryland will be the first to introduce table games in the state.
Hollywood Casino, owned by Penn National, got preliminary permission Tuesday to operate 20 table games starting March 7 at the facility in Perryville, in Cecil County.
Maryland Live, the state's largest casino, plans to offer table games April 11. Crews are working to move thousands of slot machines as the floor is reconfigured to accommodate 122 table games. The Cordish Cos.-owned facility at Arundel Mills mall has announced an expansion to add 50 poker tables this summer.
The General Assembly must approve regulations for games that include blackjack, craps and roulette but could do so this week. The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, whose board members approved Hollywood's request during their monthly meeting, also must give a final go-ahead to the casino after observing its operations during a demonstration next Tuesday.
Penn National's part in the most costly political campaign in Maryland history had little to do with table games and was focused on fighting the granting of a sixth casino license in the state, in Prince George's County. Penn National believes MGM — which spent more than $40 million supporting the passing of Question 7 — would have an unfair advantage in securing the license.
Penn National is considering putting in a bid for the Prince George's casino and would build it at Rosecroft Raceway, which it bought out of bankruptcy. A company spokeswoman said Tuesday that there was no update on whether it would bid.
The state issued a request for proposals Feb. 6 and will accept offers until May 10, after which it will release the names of bidders. Under Maryland law, casino operators are limited to one license in the state, so Penn National would have to divest its interest in the Cecil County facility to move forward in Prince George's.
For now, Penn National appears content to secure table game profits while it has a brief head start. General Manager Bill Hayles told the commission he expects booming business, based on what some veteran dealers he's hired away from Delaware casinos are saying.
"They're telling us that Delaware will lose a lot of business," he said. "They say 60 percent of the cars have Maryland license plates. Those people are driving right by us, and they won't have to anymore."
Maryland Live's general manager, Rob Norton, joked with Hayles that he wishes his casino, one of the largest in the country, could be as nimble. But what Maryland Live lacks in agility it makes up for in size — and ambition. Norton offered few details on the new, separate poker building — which will face a wooded area, not the mall — but its focus on the hard-core poker crowd is a direct attempt to win over customers before Baltimore's Horseshoe Casino, with its tie to the World Series of Poker, opens next year.
Horseshoe, meanwhile, has agreed in principle with a "celebrity chef" to open a restaurant at the facility, though General Manager Chad Barnhill said the deal has not been finalized and he could not provide details. Site demolition has begun for the casino between Russell Street and the middle branch of the Patapsco River, and crews are awaiting final approval to begin work on the $400 million project.
Barnhill and members of the Maryland gambling commission will be in Cincinnati on Wednesday for a demonstration at the Cincinnati Horseshoe, one of two Caesars Entertainment-owned facilities in Ohio that will help shape the company's approach to running an urban casino. The other, in Cleveland, has been open since May 2012.
The long-stalled casino at Rocky Gap in Western Maryland is on pace for a summer opening, according to Timothy Cope, president of parent company Lakes Entertainment. The casino floor will immediately accommodate 10 table games. Ocean Downs, near Ocean City, has yet to release a plan for implementing table games.
In all, table games will account for 2,000 new jobs in Maryland, according to casino operators.
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