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MGM National Harbor calls opening 'successful'

OXON HILL — The $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor, Maryland's sixth and most expensive casino, opened Thursday with Las Vegas-style flair and the company chairman's prediction that residents of Baltimore — about 45 miles away — "are going to come and check us out."

The resort did not offer crowd estimates early Friday but declared it a "successful" opening. "We were pleased by the positive reactions of our guests on our debut night and we are happy the resort is being so warmly received by the local community," MGM said in a written statement.

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The doors opened 30 minutes earlier than expected at 10:30 p.m. By 11:15 p.m. the resort and casino had reached capacity and new visitors were admitted only as guests departed, according to the resort.

Earlier Thursday, the vast resort overlooking the Potomac River in Prince George's County held an open house attended by Gov. Larry Hogan, who declared it "absolutely impressive," and said it would have "a transformational impact on this region."

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MGM also held a "black tie chic" VIP preview party before opening the doors to the public at a late start time intended in part to avoid rush-hour traffic in the congested area.

National Harbor — home to thousands of hotel rooms, convention space, restaurants, an outlet mall and a Ferris wheel — attracts 8 million to12 million visitors a year, according to the American Automobile Association's Mid-Atlantic office.

AAA forecast a crowd of nearly 30,000 at the resort for opening night. The association said the resort could mean an additional 9 million visitors to the area and a 6.2 percent increase in traffic on the Capital Beltway interchange near the 23-acre property.

The opening night entertainment lineup included Jabbawockeez, a hip-hop dance group; and Cirque du Soleil, the popular theater and acrobatic company.

Afternoon guests at the open house snapped pictures of actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who showed up to open a boutique featuring her lines of shoes, accessories and other products. They gawked at a holiday-themed display featuring more than 150,000 flowers in a two-story, glass-topped conservatory.

MGM is banking on star power — not just the 3,300 slot machines or 126 table games — to lure enough visitors to justify its huge investment in the resort just south of the District of Columbia.

"This isn't about taking business from any other casino in Maryland," said Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, in an interview. "This is about creating an international destination that everyone will enjoy.

"If we were simply looking to get our slice of the Maryland pie we would have spent $800 million — maybe $1 billion on the outside. But $1.4 billion means we're lwooking for Virginia, we're looking for the Mid-Atlantic region, we're looking for people to visit the capital and come here for a day or half a day."

Acts in the opening months include Bruno Mars, Cher, Sting, Boyz II Men and comedian Jim Gaffigan.

Curiosity got the best of three Prince George's County women. They arrived Thursday before the public was permitted inside, but toured the resort until a security official politely asked them to leave.

"We've been looking forward to this for two years since we first heard of it,'' said Jennifer Cullen of Lanham.

"They told us we shouldn't be here," said Renee Bullock, also of Lanham.

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The trio, staying at another National Harbor hotel, said they enjoyed their brief tour.

"It's just beautiful," Patricia Price said.

The women said they had not known they were entering before they were supposed to, and had simply walked in.

Murren said he has long been familiar with the Baltimore-Washington region.

"My mother-in-law, a retired school teacher, lives in Baltimore," Murren said. "All her friends are talking about this. I have no doubt that folks who live in the Baltimore area are going to come and check us out."

Lawmakers in Annapolis debated whether to legalize casino gambling for years before voters endorsed the introduction of slot machines in a 2008 referendum.

The lure of increased jobs and taxes made the casinos palatable to the state.

Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director Gordon Medenica projects that MGM's arrival will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax revenue in the casino's first full year.

The largest of Maryland's other casinos, Maryland Live and Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, say their own offerings — plus brand loyalty and proximity — will keep them successful even with a new rival on board.

"MGM is a good competitor," said David Cordish, chairman of the Cordish Cos., owner of Maryland Live. "Let the games begin."

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