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A day to play slots and ‘forget about what happened’

Alexander Pyles//Daily Record Business Writer//October 30, 2012

A day to play slots and ‘forget about what happened’

By Alexander Pyles

//Daily Record Business Writer

//October 30, 2012

Jim and Karen Arnaiz were feeling pretty lucky Tuesday after waking up to find no serious property damage after the former Hurricane Sandy blew through Maryland overnight.

So, they went to the casino.

Arundel Mills
Arundel Mills on Tuesday afternoon. (Alexander Pyles/The Daily Record)

Jim, a 38-year-old government contractor, said the couple lost power for “about 90 seconds” at their Severn home Monday evening. Karen, 44, said a pair of trees went down behind the couple’s Glen Burnie rental property, but they fell harmlessly into the yard.

So, after checking on their property and finding most restaurants still closed before noon Tuesday, the couple figured they’d grab a bite and try to extend their luck at Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall.

“I think they’re calling it a ‘blow day,’” said Jim, referring to the high winds and torrential rains that blasted the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, bringing ordinary life to a standstill. Like many, the Arnaizes didn’t have to go to work Tuesday.

Robert J. Norton, general manager of Maryland Live, said the casino was ready for the storm. A number of built-in generators — plus a couple of generator trucks parked outside — could have kept customers playing slot machines all night, if staying open 24 hours a day were legal.

“We could run the majority of the casino for multiple days,” Norton said.

Even as early voting was canceled, state government closed its doors for the second straight day and numerous businesses told their employees to stay home, Tuesday was almost business as usual for the largest of the state’s three commercial casinos.

Maryland Live, which had about 150 players for its 4,750 slot machines and electronic table games Tuesday morning, was the only state casino to open on time the morning after the worst of Sandy subsided.

The casino closed about 6 p.m. Monday, but slot machines were humming and pop music was blaring from overhead speakers for an on-time, 8 a.m. opening Tuesday. Maryland Live never needed to use its generators and sustained only minor damage to its garage during the storm.

The parking facility, after being closed all morning, was open again about noon.

If it were legal for Maryland casinos to stay open 24 hours a day — Maryland Live ordinarily closes at 2 a.m. on weekdays — Norton said the facility would have probably have kept operating through the worst of the storm.

And that day may come soon, because in addition to authorizing table games and a Prince George’s County casino, voter approval of Question 7 on Election Day would allow Maryland casinos to stay open all day, every day.

But if Maryland Live could have stayed open this time, it would not have called the occasion a “hurricane party,” Norton said.

“You never mock a hurricane. … [But] in most situations, we would stay open,” he said. “Because we closed [at 2 a.m.], we felt it was the safest thing to do. We had 500 people in the facility when we shut down last night.”

Between 30 and 40 casino employees were checked into local hotel rooms after Monday night’s close. Some essential staff even stayed in the casino as sheets of horizontal rain and powerful wind whistled through the area Monday night and early Tuesday, downing some trees and causing at least one traffic signal in the immediate area to go dark.

When Maryland Live announced on Facebook that it was open Tuesday, many commented on the post, accusing casino executives of putting their own business interest ahead of their customers’ safety. Gov. Martin O’Malley was still asking Marylanders to stay off the roads Tuesday, and a ban on all non-emergency vehicle traffic was in place in Baltimore until noon.

But Norton said the casino was helping the area return to normalcy by opening its doors.

“[People] will be looking for a place to go to forget about what happened,” he said. “The quicker the large corporations and large businesses get back into operation, the better for the community.”

Samantha Henderson, a 25-year-old Anne Arundel County public school teacher, did not disagree. Surrounded by frequent gamblers who were going about their normal Tuesday morning routine of playing slots, Henderson said she was trying to take advantage of an unexpected day off.

She said the roads were fine coming into the casino, and she expected to be back in the classroom Wednesday morning. For now, she was happy to be with friends and eager to win a few dollars.

Norton said the crowd, still a tad modest for an ordinary Tuesday morning, would probably pick up as the day wore on. But most who were already in the casino at midday — bereft of their normal obligations — didn’t exactly have anywhere to go.

As more gamblers trickled in than trickled out just before 1 p.m., Jim and Karen Arnaiz laughed as they almost skipped down the red-carpeted pathway that snakes through Maryland Live. The couples’ luck had not yet run out; they were up $180.


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