Regulators approve opening of Maryland Live’s poker room

Maryland gambling regulators on Wednesday approved Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall’s application to open a poker room, an expected but needed sign-off that came just hours before the Cordish Cos. planned to begin opening ceremonies.

Maryland Live Casino’s poker room. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency conducted a controlled demonstration Monday with 300 people in attendance. Money gambled at the controlled demonstration is being donated to charity, the agency said.

“The room’s operations were carefully analyzed and reviewed,” said Lottery Director Stephen L. Martino.  “We are confident that the poker room operations are consistent with our requirements for transparency, accountability and the promotion of fair play.”

The 14,800-square-foot poker room includes 52 poker tables and employs 300 people. The casino already operates 122 table games on its main gambling floor, in addition to more than 4,300 slot machines.

Maryland Live is one of the largest casinos in the nation and is Maryland’s most successful gambling facility, having generated more than $472 million in the recently ended fiscal year.

Opening ceremonies are expected to begin Wednesday at 11 a.m. and the poker room is scheduled to open to the public at noon.

The future of online gambling in Maryland

Legalizing online lottery ticket sales might be one way to prevent the first year-over-year decrease in lottery ticket sales in 15 years from turning into a multi-year trend.

The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency‘s plan to launch an online lottery service was vetoed by Gov. Martin O’Malley this year and the agency had to fight to stop legislation in the General Assembly that would have stripped away some of its regulatory authority.

Lottery officials have previously said that expanding its offerings to the Web would be critical to capturing the younger generation of would-be gamblers.

The lawmaker most responsible for evaluating gambling legislation in the House of Delegates said Friday there’s a lot of work to be done before scratch-offs could be purchased with a click.

“I think there’s a lot of unanswered questions,” said Del. Eric G. Luedtke, chairman of the Finance Resources Subcommittee. “You’ve seen other states race to get into it. A lot of the opposition [in Maryland] just came from traditional lottery retailers that don’t want the competition. For me, the biggest unanswered question is, how do you prevent underage players? I’m not entirely sure the technological infrastructure  is there.”

Other states including Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada have already embraced online gambling, and some Maryland casinos are waiting for state law to catch up. Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall, the state’s most successful casino, has an online casino on its website where e-gamblers can play without placing real wagers. Caesars Entertainment Corp., the leader of a group that plans to open a casino in Baltimore next year, is active in online gambling in Nevada.

If Internet gambling is ever legalized in Maryland, the casinos will have the necessary framework in place to start taking bets.

“It’ll happen. It’ll be two years or three years,” said James Karmel, an associate professor at Harford Community College who studies the gambling industry. “Whatever can be done to capture the younger generation. … I’m interested in the effect online gambling is going to have on physical casinos.”

Luedtke, D-Montgomery, also admitted the question of online gambling was something lawmakers would have to seriously consider before too long — especially if lottery revenue continues to diminish.

“Everything’s going online eventually,” Luedtke said. “It might be something we have to do to continue getting revenues.”

Removing slots from Maryland casinos wasn’t easy

When Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall and Hollywood Casino Perryville were ready to shed slot machines from overcrowded gambling floors, they ran up against some resistance from Maryland’s gambling regulators.

Charles LaBoy, assistant director for gaming at the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, said it took some “arm twisting” to get the casinos to give up machines that were high-performing. Both preferred to give up their worst machines.

“That’s what they would do if we let them,” he told members of the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight on Thursday.

Because some slot machines were going to fill Rocky Gap Casino Resort, regulators wanted to ensure that the state’s newest casino didn’t wind up with more than 500 lemons. Sen. George C. Edwards, a Western Maryland Republican, said Thursday that it didn’t seem as if the facility near Cumberland had gotten a bad deal.

LaBoy later added that Maryland’s four casinos — led by the three that have offer table games such as blackjack and roulette — were also keeping Maryland gamblers within state lines. Previously, they had been crossing in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia to play.

“We have definitely stemmed the flow of Maryland residents,” LaBoy said. “With Maryland Live, we’ve turned the tables.”

The (Atlantic City) casinos are coming

A marketing agency for Atlantic City will descend on Baltimore next week in an attempt to get Maryland residents to forgo Ocean City and Maryland Live and instead take a trip to New Jersey.

The Atlantic City Alliance, which was last in town in April to alert the media they’d return this summer with on-street advertising, is keeping its promise. The group is setting up shop during Artscape, July 19 to 21.

As casino gambling has undergone a dramatic expansion across the United States — including in Maryland, where four casinos are running and two more are on the way — Atlantic City has lost some of its luster and revenue.

The alliance was formed in 2011 to develop a new marketing plan for the city, re-branding it as a family-friendly seaside resort town. The group made its first tour stop at the Taste of Philadelphia festival last weekend.

Maryland’s highly-regulated casinos generated $608.4 million in fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30. More than $284 million of that went to the state Education Trust Fund while casino operators kept $223.8 million.

Public hearings on Prince George’s casino slated for fall

State regulators still expect to award a casino license to one of three applicants to operate a casino in Prince George’s County, and the schedule for that process is starting to materialize.

The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency is currently conducting background investigations into all three applicants — MGM National Harbor LLC (led by MGM Resorts International Inc.), Maryland Casino LLC (led by Greenwood Racing Inc.) and Prince George’s Racing Ventures LLC (led by Penn National Gaming Inc.) — and those investigations are expected to be finished in September.

After that, members of Video Lottery Facility Location Commission will visit all three potential sites — including National Harbor, an empty lot in Fort Washington and Rosecroft Raceway — and then hold public hearings on each proposal in late September or October. The final decision will be made in December.

MGM Resorts has proposed a resort casino with 3,600 slot machines and 140 table games to be built at the sprawling National Harbor mini-city near Oxon Hill. Penn National has proposed building a casino at Rosecroft Raceway that includes 140 table games and “at least” 3,000 slot machines — though the company only paid an initial license fee to cover 500 slots.

The surprise bidder was Greenwood Racing Inc., the owner of Parx Casino near Philadelphia. That company has proposed building a resort casino near the intersection of Indian Head Highway and Old Fort Road in Fort Washington with 4,750 slots and 170 table games.

Prince George’s casino meetings could start in June

A formal schedule is far from complete, but the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission could soon start to consider proposals for Prince George’s County’s casino license.

Jaclyn L. Vincent, director of gaming research and chief of staff for the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, said there would “hopefully” be a meeting of the location commission in June, with site visits and public presentations of casino proposals tentatively scheduled for July.

The license is still expected to be awarded by the end of the year, Lottery officials said Thursday, despite the agency receiving one more bid than originally expected.

MGM Resorts International Inc. has proposed a resort casino with 3,600 slot machines and 140 table games to be built at the sprawling National Harbor mini-city near Oxon Hill. Penn National Gaming Inc. has proposed building a casino at Rosecroft Raceway that includes 140 table games and “at least” 3,000 slot machines — though the company only paid an initial license fee to cover 500 slots.

The surprise bidder was Greenwood Racing Inc., the owner of Parx Casino near Philadelphia. That company has proposed building a resort casino near the intersection of Indian Head Highway and Old Fort Road in Fort Washington with 4,750 slots and 170 table games.

Gambling commissioner wants close look at Penn National’s corporate plans

A rendering of Penn National Gaming Inc.'s plan for Rosecroft Raceway, if it wins Prince George's County's casino license.

The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission plans to take a closer look at Penn National Gaming Inc.’s plan to split into two companies.

The Wyomissing, Pa.-based gambling company plans to cede control of its casinos (and other real estate) to a publicly-traded Real Estate Investment Trust called Gaming and Leisure Properties, Inc. The entity known as Penn National Gaming would retain the company’s operating assets.

In the split, Hollywood Casino Perryville would be owned by Gaming and Leisure Properties, freeing up Penn National Gaming — which would retain ownership of Rosecroft Raceway — to build a casino there if awarded Prince George’s County’s casino license by the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission.

State law prohibits a company from holding more than one casino license.

John W. Morton III, a new Lottery commissioner who also chaired a task force last summer to study expanded gambling, said he felt the commission needed “to be very careful.”

“The form I understand, with the REIT,” Morton said Thursday. “The substance, however, is something different.”

Penn National is one of three companies vying to build a casino in Prince George’s County, considered by many to be the premier location for such a facility in the United States.

MGM Resorts International Inc. has bid to build a resort casino at National Harbor. Greenwood Racing Inc. — owner of Parx Casino near Philadelphia and partners with the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. in a casino bid in Philadelphia — is seeking to build a resort casino in Fort Washington.

“Obviously, there is a lot of personnel and financial resources behind these bids,” Morton said.

Casino could be ‘magic bullet,’ at Rocky Gap, MEDCO boss says

Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Allegany County. (Alexander Pyles/The Daily Record)

A lot of Western Marylanders, casino experts, economists and stakeholders contributed to a story in Wednesday’s paper looking at the history and future of what is now called Rocky Gap Casino Resort.

Few had a more unique vantage point than Robert C. Brennan, executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corp., which owned the property when it was called Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort.

Brennan spoke with The Daily Record at length this week about the lodge, a project that he said failed as a hotel, conference center and golf resort but succeeded from an economic development perspective, driving some tourism to Allegany County. Only a small percentage of Brennan’s comments fit into today’s story.

For one thing, Brennan said it was difficult to lure people from Maryland’s more densely populated core.

“Getting people to go west, in my opinion, has always been difficult,” Brennan said. “My analogy’s always been ‘during the summer months, 300,000 people pack Ocean City, and I would love to have just had a small fraction of those people experience the western part of the state.’ We never had the big marketing dollars to attract people.”

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Penn National says Rosecroft casino would have ‘at least’ 3,000 slots

Penn National Gaming Inc. intends to install at least 3,000 slot machines at Rosecroft Raceway if it wins the right to operate a casino in Prince George’s County, even though the company paid an initial licensing fee to the state that only covers 500 slots.

State law requires companies bidding on casino licenses to submit an initial license fee of $3 million per every 500 proposed slot machines. Penn National’s $3 million fee was dwarfed by MGM Resorts International Inc. ($21.6 million for 3,600 slots) and Greenwood Racing Inc. ($28.5 million for 4,750 slots).

A Penn National spokeswoman said Monday the company only provided a licensing fee for 500 machines because it felt unsure the full fee would be refunded if the company was not awarded the license for the Prince George’s casino.

Karen Bailey, the spokeswoman, said Penn National did the same thing when it bid to operate what is now Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County. If Penn National is awarded the casino license, Bailey said the company would pay the remaining license fee.

Companies are able to revise their proposals as the state Video Lottery Facility Location Commission reviews bids, but are not guaranteed the ability to increase the number of slot machines from their original proposal.

Penn National plans to bid on Prince George’s casino

The Pennsylvania gambling company that spent more than $40 million to prevent a massive gambling expansion in Maryland plans to bid on the Prince George’s County casino license that was part of that expansion.

In a federal filing last week, Penn National Gaming Inc. indicated it would turn in a bid this week — but didn’t sound optimistic about its chances.

“Though we intend to participate in the bidding process, we believe another operator could be selected,” Penn National said in its quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Penn National has previously said it would like to build a casino at Rosecroft Raceway, a horse racing track it owns in Fort Washington.

MGM Resorts International Inc. made plans last summer to bid on the license, too, offering to build a resort casino at National Harbor in Oxon Hill. MGM — favored by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and other powerful elected officials — is widely expected to win the license.

Despite the SEC filing Friday, a Penn National spokeswoman declined to discuss the company’s expected bid, saying that no information on the decision would be available until the May 10 application deadline.