By Kevin Rector and Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun
11:54 PM EDT, June 6, 2012
On Wednesday night, after 18 months of construction and three years of planning, the $500 million Maryland Live Casino in Hanover was ready for prime time.
Just after 10 p.m., Roxine Noone of Jessup burst through the doors of the just-opened casino at Arundel Mills mall and whooped her excitement — holding a crisp $100 bill out in front of her.
"I have been waiting nine years for this," she said.
Judy Sorrell of Annapolis threw her hands into the air as she came through the doors after having waited in line for more than five hours.
"We just wanted to be here to be part of history," she said, "and now we're part of history."
With the opening of Maryland Live's first phase, the number of slot machines operating in the state has more then doubled — and, officials hope, so will tax revenue from slots.
Maryland Live, the state's third slots facility, set expectations high, and its operators hope to maintain the momentum created by the lavish opening night.
"This is just the start of it," said Rob Norton, the casino's president and general manager, on Wednesday. "Those who say that this is the end of the process, they'll see that this is the beginning of everything."
Before the casino opened to the public at 10 p.m., the Cordish Cos., Maryland Live's owner and developer, held a three-hour party and gambling session for about 2,000 VIPs.
Guests milled around eating and drinking. A man on a large tricycle with an umbrella of wine glasses above him served drinks. A woman surrounded by a table of desserts moved along the aisles, as women on stilts and dressed in colonial garb glided along behind her. Many other costumed women in beads and feathers flitted by.
Mary Miller of Pasadena sat nearby at a slot machine. A longtime gambler at Dover Downs, she said she was impressed.
"I'm not going to give up Dover, but I'm doing well," she said.
Her neighbor Cindy Ford stood nearby, eating a plate of food. The machine she had been playing had malfunctioned three times in a row, freezing in mid-play, she said. Still, she was having fun.
"It's beautiful, fantastic," she said. "I'll be back."
Glitches in the machines weren't the only problems.
Speeches from Maryland Live owner David Cordish, Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold and others were largely drowned out by the crowd during a ribbon-cutting and presentation of checks to four local nonprofits.
In general, though, the mood was festive.
"We are overly impressed with the facilities and all the fanfare," said Ericka Woods, a seventh-grade history teacher in Prince George's County who lives in Mitchellville. "I'm here to support the state and its revenue."
"So teachers can get a raise!" said Woods' friend Tyronda Boone, also a teacher in Prince George's.
Cordish executives said more than 100 federal, state and local officials were on hand for the opening. Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he was impressed.
"I'm hoping we can get ours in Baltimore to be just as good," Young said, referring to plans for Baltimore to open a casino of its own. "I think this grand opening is really classy, and I hope we can get ours up and running."
The slots facility features electronic table games and more than 3,100 slot machines, many bearing names like Tiki Torch, China Shores and Wild Patagonia.
By October, 1,550 more machines are to be added to an expanded gambling floor.
The casino opened with a half-dozen restaurants and bars, notably Bobby's Burger Palace, from Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
The casino expects to pay at least $400 million per year to the state. The state's two previously operating casinos have provided the treasury a total of $172 million since they opened — less than half the tax revenue Maryland Live expects to generate in a single year.
"There's no doubt that there's going to be a significant revenue benefit to the state," said Stephen Martino, director of the Maryland Lottery, which regulates gambling operations.
Hollywood Casino Perryville, in Cecil County, opened in September 2010 and has 1,500 slot machines. The Casino at Ocean Downs, near Ocean City, opened in January 2011 and has about 800 machines.
Two-thirds of each casino's revenue is registered in the state's ledgers, with the bulk going to support education. Cordish and other casino operators have lobbied legislators to approve table games in an effort to boost revenue.
Kirvin Bonner, who lives near the Maryland Live Casino and was checking out its exterior Wednesday afternoon, said he didn't plan to gamble because there are no human dealers.
"That's the worst type of gambling," said Bonner, who added that he was worried about the traffic the casino would generate.
The State Highway Administration expected heavy traffic around Arundel Mills during the opening-night festivities and into the weekend.
Those expectations were fulfilled late Wednesday night as Arundel Mills Circle, the loop that goes around the mall complex, was completely jammed, with drivers using the turn lane as a traffic lane. Frustrated drivers heading toward and away from the casino along the loop honked their horns as minutes passed and they made minimal progress.
Traffic was also backed up on Route 100 westbound beyond the Route 295 overpass, and there was heavy congestion on the Route 100 eastbound ramp onto Route 295 southbound.
Cordish spent $10 million for road improvements — including the addition of turn lanes, widened streets and added signage — but the biggest transit renovation to the area is still under construction.
A new interchange at Arundel Mills Boulevard and Route 295 is scheduled to open Monday, though construction will continue through the summer, according to the State Highway Administration.
Maryland Live Casino hours
Sundays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Fridays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 4 a.m.
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