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Caesars proposes ‘dramatic’ gateway for Baltimore casino

The development group led by Caesars Entertainment Corp. touted its proposed 260,000-square foot casino on Russell Street as a “dramatic new gateway to downtown” Baltimore on Monday.

Trevor Busche

The $310 million project, called Harrah’s Baltimore, would include 3,750 slot machines, a high-end steakhouse, a 400-seat buffet and a Baltimore-themed sports bar.

“We think we can bring a lot of excitement to this area,” Caesars President, CEO and Chairman Gary Loveman told the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission. “We think we can bring in a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise be here.

“This has been a very exciting prospect for us for some time, as we’ve gotten to know the city,” he said.

The two-story Harrah’s would front Russell Street between Bayard and Worcester streets, and a 4,000-space parking garage would be built across Warner Street from the casino. The brick and glass exterior would “consistent with other recent landmarks,” said Caesars Vice President Trevor Busche.

The casino would be just blocks from M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Caesars executives and their partners, including former Rouse Co. CEO Anthony Deering and Theo Rodgers, president of A&R Development, said the casino could anchor economic development along Russell Street by tying into the other entertainment amenities in the area.

“This casino development will be transformational, as were Camden Yards, the football stadium and Harborplace,” said Deering, now the chairman of Caves Valley Partners.

But, he cautioned, the spark would likely be limited to the east side of Russell.

“I think Russell Street is a big pedestrian barrier, a big automobile barrier,” Deering said.

Commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said the panel hopes to make a decision on the Caesars proposal early next year. The company anticipated action in the first quarter, a timetable Fry said would be “tight, but we’ll do what we can.”

Assuming the Caesars group is granted a license in the first quarter, the gaming and entertainment giant projects a late 2013 opening.

Harrah’s would be the state’s second-largest casino, behind only Maryland Live! Casino under construction in Anne Arundel County. That casino will have 4,750 slot machines.

Loveman said the goal for Harrah’s will be to attract the “VIP customers” in the area with membership benefits that extend through the 52 casinos run by Caesars.

The first floor of Harrah’s would hold the buffet, steak house and 1,650 slot machines. The balance of the machines — including 100 terminals in a high-limit area — would be on the second floor, along with the sports bar.

Plans provided by Caesars include more than 21,000 square feet of space “reserved for expansion” that Loveman said could be used to add table games, should they be approved by the General Assembly.

Lawmakers are expected to debate the issue during the 2012 legislative session.

Loveman said the casino could play host to a World Series of Poker satellite event, where thousands of poker player vie for prizes that would include a seat at the series main event in Las Vegas.

Commissioner Rona Kramer, a former state senator from Montgomery County, asked if the casino would be viable without table games.

“Yes,” said Loveman. “We have underwritten this case under the presumption we would run just 3,750 [slot machines].”

Caesars and its development partners would pay for about $125 million of the project with cash and finance almost all the rest, according to the company. Maryland is expected to pay $188 million to buy and lease the slot machines, as is required by state law.

The company projected gross gaming revenue will grow from $419 million in the first year of operation to $484 million by year five.

In the third year, with $465 million in revenue, that would mean $282 million in gaming taxes, $13 million to lease the site from the city and $4 million in property taxes.

Caesars said it would hire 1,225 workers to run the casino, and executives outlined what they said was a record of building diverse workforces and pools of contractors from communities around their casinos.

“We take these efforts of economic inclusion very seriously,” said Fred Keeton, the company’s chief diversity officer.

The Baltimore casino would be similar in many ways to the Harrah’s in New Orleans, Loveman said.

That casino partners with hotels and more than 30 restaurants to spread customers through the city, and Caesars “would want to pursue a similar notion in Baltimore” and run a shuttle service to and from other attractions, Loveman said.

“It is a commitment to and an investment in Baltimore, a city we believe in,” said Rodgers. “It is a dramatic new gateway to downtown.”

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