Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Casinos unsure about impact of 24/7 gambling

The first part of Maryland’s gambling expansion could be approved by regulators this week, when the State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission evaluates casino operators’ requests to stay open 24 hours a day.

Maryland Live Casino in Arundel Mills. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record).

But industry experts are unsure what impact the increased hours will have on gambling revenue at Maryland’s three slots parlors.

Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall wants to stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week starting Dec. 27 at 8 a.m. The state’s other commercial casinos — Hollywood Casino Perryville and the Casino at Ocean Downs — want to stay open all weekend but close at 2 a.m. during the week. The seven-member gambling panel is expected to approve those requests Thursday.

Though it’s possible the commission could deny a casino operator’s plan, it’s rare for the panel to disagree with recommendations made by the State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency’s staff. Lottery Commission Chairman J. Kirby Fowler Jr. said Monday he trusted the staff’s recommendation, but was not sure if questions might arise before the commission’s meeting.

One question for commissioners and casino operators to ponder is whether expanded hours will mean expanded revenue. Several industry experts from around the country said Monday that it was not clear that an expansion of several hours a day would amount to significant piles of cash for casinos and the state, which gets 67 percent of slots money.

“Obviously, I think anytime you’re open for more hours it means there’s a possibility of more folks coming through doors,” said Holly Wetzel, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based American Gaming Association. “How many are going to come through in the wee hours of the night? It’s probably not a hugely significant number.”

There are, however, cost savings involved with not having to shut down slot machines and close up shop every night, Wetzel said, though she added it would be up to individual casino operators to measure that cost effectiveness.

Those measurements are shown in operators’ differing approaches to the legalization of 24/7 operations. In a letter to the lottery agency, Ocean Downs General Manager Joseph T. Cavilla said the seasonal nature of his business just outside Ocean City made it fiscally unwise to stay open all day, every day.

But Cavilla acknowledged that even he was unsure, and asked for flexibility in adjusting hours once he measures the volume of late-night and early-morning crowds. Bill Hayles, the general manager of Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County, made a similar request.

David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said it was difficult to tell how Maryland gamblers would respond to the new hours. But in the country’s casino meccas, 24-hour-a-day gambling had proven itself a profitable business model, he said.

“Judging from the fact that all of the Las Vegas casinos are 24/7, that shows there’s a market,” Schwartz said.

Opponents of gambling, however, can take some solace in the apparent unlikelihood that expanded casino hours will lead to an uptick in problem gambling in Maryland. Christine Reilly, senior research director for the Washington-based National Center for Responsible Gaming, said that even though Las Vegas casinos are open 24/7, the percentage of gambling addicts in Nevada is no greater than in other states.

“At first, it might be a novelty effect for a lot of people,” Reilly said. “But a lot won’t stick with it. It doesn’t seem to increase problem gambling over time.”

Even Reilly, though, wasn’t able to say — for sure — that there won’t be bleary-eyed gamblers sitting at slot machines later this month.

“It’s kind of hard to know what the impact is going to be,” she said.