The Cordish Cos. is scheduled to break ground Tuesday on a 17-story hotel at Maryland Live that will become the tallest building in Anne Arundel County and allow the casino to fill a gap in the amenities it offers to its frequent customers.
The $200 million, 310-room hotel and event center in Hanover is being constructed at an important time for Maryland Live. Currently the state's largest casino, it soon will face competition from MGM National Harbor, a $1.3 billion casino and resort in Prince George's County on the Potomac River scheduled to open by the end of the year.
Maryland Live's new hotel — to include meeting space, a concert venue and spa — will provide its owner, Baltimore-based Cordish, "another tool in its toolbox," said James Karmel, a casino analyst and history professor at Harford Community College.
"It would make sense that they're looking to shore up their base, adding another perk for their higher-revenue players," he said.
Maryland Live says it has just over 1 million "rewards" members grouped into five tiers. They receive benefits ranging from free slots play and meals to trips to resorts and tickets to sporting events.
"The major category we're missing is a free hotel room," said David Cordish, chairman of the Cordish Cos. "The major reason for this hotel far and away is to reward our loyal customers so they can stay overnight. The great bulk of the people will not be paying, they will be comped. The public who buys a room will get a very good deal but that's not why we're doing it."
The only other Maryland casino with a hotel is Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Cumberland County. It was a hotel years before opening the state's fourth casino in 2013.
Regional casinos are generally less likely to include hotels than those in "destination" cities such as Las Vegas.
"Regional gaming is not usually like that," said Alan Woinski, whose Gaming USA Corp. publishes industry newsletters. "Maryland Live is big enough that they're a step above. A lot of people like to go to a casino and, if they're more than half an hour or 45 minutes away, they want to be able to stay there."
Comps are integral to gambling's culture. Maryland Live president Rob Nortion said last year that it offers comps including "trips to Atlantis, to Wynn resorts, to cruise lines, and we send people to the Super Bowl. It's about creating experience and creating a relationship."
The hotel tower was designed by Klai Juba Wald Architects of Las Vegas. Renderings depict a building, with glass as a dominant material, towering above the parking garage and displaying "Live!" in red near the top.
A presidential suite will offer bird's-eye views of the area with floor-to-ceiling windows.
A lobby rendering shows high ceilings and a contemporary look. "A lively bar scene and cafe restaurant spill out into the Lobby, providing a stylish and energetic introduction to the Live! experience," according to a company fact sheet.
Cordish said the hotel could be done in about a year. A fact sheet projects completion in the first quarter of 2018.
The event space will have multiple uses.
"Not only will our county get a hotel and event center that will attract trade shows, conventions, and other business events, it will provide a critical venue for high school graduations and other nonprofits' events," Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said in a written statement. "This facility will be a first-class graduation venue for a first-class school system."
Schuh, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and other public officials were expected to attend a ceremony marking Tuesday's ground-breaking.
The hotel is expected to mean about 400 new permanent jobs and 550 construction jobs.
"Anytime one of our companies makes such a major investment and adds hundreds of new jobs to our economy, it's a reason to celebrate," Gov. Larry Hogan said in a prepared statement. "This new hotel and event complex will be another boost to our already vibrant tourism industry, which brings more than $16 billion in visitor spending each year."
Maryland Live, which opened in 2012 adjacent to Arundel Mills mall, has planned for years to feature a hotel. To create space for the new structure, workers moved the road this summer that rings the mall.
"A casino is a much simpler structure to design and construct," Cordish said. "We think it's a good play to get it open, then build your hotel. It certainly enabled us to get it open much quicker than if we had built the hotel at the same time. It's always good to be first, build up your loyalty."
Cordish said the hotel will be the first of many hotels featuring the "Live!" brand with an exclamation point. Others are slated for Philadelphia, in the stadium district, and Arlington, Texas. He said the brand blends amenities with "a very live entertainment atmosphere."
A state consultant projected in 2013 that Maryland Live could lose 16 percent of its market share by 2019 after the opening of MGM National Harbor. Maryland Live currently draws from some of the same areas — including Prince George's County and Northern Virginia — expected to patronize MGM. MGM says its casino will be a "destination" resort attracting more than half of its business from outside the state.
Cordish noted there also were dire predictions about the impact on Maryland Live of the opening of Horseshoe Casino Baltimore in 2014. But two months ago, Maryland Live reported $60.4 million in revenue, its second-highest total ever. Maryland's five casinos have reported nine straight months of combined revenue gains compared to a year ago.
Cordish said his casino can distinguish itself because it is locally and family-owned.
He added: "MGM is a good competitor. Let the games begin."