Last November, after months of campaigning — and millions spent on advertising for and against gambling expansion — Maryland voters decided the allure of live table games at local casinos was too enticing to ignore and Question 7 was approved by a narrow margin.
On a recent Friday night, Maryland Live Casino — the state's largest and most extravagant casino, located in Hanover — appeared to be reaping the benefits of democracy.
At around 9:30 p.m., the crowded and energized floor offered enough sights and sounds to keep eyes darting in all directions. Towering women in lavish dresses and show-girl style headpieces flashed dazzling smiles as they welcomed customers. An Orioles game played on mounted flatscreen TVs. Burger grease wafted through the air around Bobby's Burger Palace. And, of course, the sounds of money mostly being lost to live dealers and slot machines alike rang loudest.
You wouldn't mistake the casino, which opened last June and introduced live table games on April 11, for Atlantic City, but Maryland Live offers an uncommon experience in the area. It's a $500 million operation that looks every bit the part, and it was refreshing to see so many people of all ages and backgrounds filling the floor.
For the most part, it was a different story last October, when I first visited. Granted, it was a Wednesday night, but the casino floor was decidedly dull. It resembled a state-of-the-art gym with only a few people on some treadmills. Unsurprisingly, the clientele was also noticeably older, which made me wonder: Could a shiny new casino, planted in a congested shopping mall area, catch on with young people without live table games? At the time, it was not a place I imagined returning to with friends.
A month later, the question no longer mattered. And seven months after my first experience, Maryland Live felt like an entirely different place — one that seemed like an attractive alternative for those needing a break from the city's nightlife scene.
One aspect of the casino was similar on both visits: The Rams Head Center Stage concert hall. Both nights offered free entertainment — two local, rock cover bands — that failed to attract a crowd. The 500-seat venue had approximately 30 people in it last October; on the recent Friday trip, there were 40. Most in attendance were seated, and many looked like they were taking a break from the casino floor. It was sad that the room with the most amplifiers felt like the quietest spot in the whole place. The band, with its constantly straining lead singer, did the stage no favors, and the excellent sound system only highlighted the problem.
There's a bar tucked in the Center Stage's back corner, but there were more people at the bar in front of the venue's entrance. Bartenders were busy, so it took more than five minutes for someone to notice I was without a drink.
The eight beers on tap are obvious choices: Budweiser, Bud Light, Landshark, Shock Top. Fordham (Annapolis) and Old Dominion (Dover, Del.) are the closest representatives of local brews. It would have been nice to see the Budweiser replaced with a Baltimore beer, or even National Bohemian. The beers were also comically small: The plastic cup holding my $5 Stella Artois was slightly taller than my wallet.
Walking out, it seemed Maryland Live Casino was doing better than fine, at least for a Friday night. The floor was filled, and groups of smiling people were coming in whenever I passed an entrance. The potential for a fun, memorable night is obvious from the moment you enter. Just don't expect a world-class concert or much bang for your buck at the bar.
But, then again, why would you? This is a casino after all.
Maryland Live Casino
Back story: After four-and-a-half years of planning and construction, the Cordish Cos.' Maryland Live Casino opened in June 2012. Last November, Maryland voters approved gambling expansion that included live table games. Since then, the casino has performed well: Overall revenue was reportedly up $1.95 million in April from March.
Parking: The casino has a large lot with free parking. There's also valet service.
Signature drink: The casino lacks options for craft beer and craft cocktails. A small cup of Stella Artois costs $5.
Where: 7002 Arundel Mills Circle #7777, Hanover
Contact: 443-842-7000, marylandlivecasino.com
Open: 24 hours daily