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Casino at Arundel Mills opens early to an eager crowd

With a crowd blockading the entrance to the Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills mall just before 9:30 p.m. and a ribbon cutting ceremony winding down, casino officials opened the doors to the general public about a half-hour early.

And then the mob took over.

Robert J. Norton, the casino’s general manager, said he expected “north of 10,000” people to play at the casino Wednesday night. David Cordish, chairman of The Cordish Cos., the casino’s developer, said that number would more than double for the weekend.

After weeks of seeing the lights and hearing the sounds of a casino during tours and tests, Norton was relieved to see customers sitting at slot machines, buying drinks at the bar and exploring the 3,200-game labyrinth.

“It feels like a casino now,” Norton said.

Not every night will be so glamorous as Wednesday evening’s opening — many of the costumed performers that roamed about the casino for the VIPs had adjourned to a private party inside the casino’s buffet area by 9 p.m.

But Norton said the no-holds-barred opening was meant to send a message to the state’s would-be gamblers.

“Entertainment is part of the Live! brand,” he said.

Cordish, who has invested some $500 million in the facility, which will ultimately support 4,750 slot machines and electronic table games, said his vision was realized by bringing “Vegas-style” games to a suburban Maryland casino.

“This is what we planned,” Cordish said.

Joseph Weinberg, president of gaming for Cordish, said more than 100 state and federal elected officials were present at the opening. Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold was in attendance and gave brief remarks during the ribbon cutting ceremony after Weinberg thanked the county executive for his support.

State Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. was also present, representing Anne Arundel County. Baltimore County was represented by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Several members of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s work group studying expanded gambling were present, too, including Del. Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George’s, House of Delegates Ways and Means chairwoman Sheilla E. Hixson, D-Montgomery and Del. Frank S. Turner, D-Howard, who chairs the House committee that oversees gambling issues.

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, was also in the building. Fry, who chairs the state’s Video Lottery Terminal Location Commission, called the night a special one for the Cordish family and the state — a point Weinberg tried to drive home before officially opening the casino to the public.

“This project is going to send more than $1 million a day to the state of Maryland,” Weinberg said.

If opening night was any indication, the casino should get a good start toward that goal.