Amid legal wrangling and a ballot fight, it seemed as though the casino proposed for Arundel Mills would never become a reality.
Nearly two years ago, the state's slots commission awarded Anne Arundel County's sole slots license to Baltimore developer Cordish Cos. But construction began only this past January.
That's because Cordish battled numerous opponents, including the Maryland Jockey Club, which had sought to steer the license to Laurel Park race course in an attempt to boost the track's ailing business. A legal fight moved to a countywide ballot referendum, in which voters affirmed last fall Cordish's right to build the casino at the mall.
With the tumult behind it, Cordish Cos. is moving on. The first phase of Maryland Live! Casino, with 3,000 slot machines and electronic table-game terminals, is on track to open in June. And the entire $500 million casino is expected to open by the end of 2012.
Maryland Live! is expected to be the largest and most lucrative of the state's five planned casinos. One in Perryville and another in the Eastern Shore are now open, while state officials are considering bids for one slots parlor each in Baltimore City and in Western Maryland.
"We're excited to get this place opened," said Maryland Live! casino general manager Robert J. Norton, a gambling industry veteran who was hired in March to oversee all aspects of the facility's operations.
"I think people will be pleased on many levels with the facility and the entertainment and the experience that Maryland Live! will provide."
Norton recently spoke with The Baltimore Sun about the casino construction's progress, jobs and what gamblers can expect.
What will make Maryland Live! different from other casinos in the area, including those that have already opened in Maryland?
The first thing … is the scope of the project. We'll have 4,750 slot machines with over 300,000 square feet of space. We'll have world-class restaurants and national-brand restaurants.
And you tie that all together with arguably one of the best locations in the country, between Baltimore and Washington, at Arundel Mills where you have the convenience of all the amenities right next to us. …
It'll be competitive in [Las] Vegas or Atlantic City, we believe.
Where would the casino draw customers from?
The lion's share of consumers will come from within a two-hour driving range.
We realize that there are natural synergies that exist with the local hotels and other business along the Arundel Mills area and the proximity to BWI [airport] to have a prominent presence in the tourism market.
As such, we're working with convention and visitors groups and other organizations like that to make sure we address the tourism market appropriately. …
We are very interested in working with local business owners as it relates to some of our ongoing operational and marketing strategies. We've approached many of the stores in the mall, and we're trying to enhance and build that relationship with Arundel Mills. It's not going to be limited to just the mall. We would like to engage that whole neighborhood.
Give us an update on where things stand with the casino's construction and other plans.
Everything on the construction side is on schedule. Things are moving nicely out there. It's coming along great.
Hiring has commenced. We posted an ad in the paper [recently] and we had hundreds of responses already. And our website for recruiting online … is scheduled to kick off in the next two months. Our preview center is about to open at the mall where people could get a taste of what the facility will be like.
Speaking of hiring, how many total jobs will you have?
When you add the restaurant functions, 1,500 total jobs.
The lion's share will be hired by June, and a small percentage will come on after June. …
Right now, most of the executive positions are going through postings and recruitment efforts. But as we get closer to mass hiring, we will be engaging job fairs and other tactics like that. We are working closely with the community college and workforce development agency. …
What's great about the casino when it comes to finding a career is that we're a microcosm of the rest of the world, where you could find almost anything. … We could find careers for a wide variety of personalities and interests.
What kind of outreach does the casino have planned for surrounding neighborhoods and residents, some of whom had opposed a casino at the mall?
We will have a community advisory group as part of our plans … to ensure that we have a positive impact in the community.
We take our involvement with the community seriously, and this advisory group is to make sure that they have a voice [at] the table. We intend to be a good corporate neighbor.
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