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Maryland casinos to operate 24 hours a day; rules for table games approved

A die must be made of cellulose, except for its spots, and cannot be smaller than three-quarters of an inch on each side. Value chips must be in the shape of a disk, and only in a denomination and color previously approved by regulators.

That’s just a small sample of the reams of new regulations approved on Thursday by the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, including those governing table games such as blackjack and roulette, that will shape the way Maryland’s casinos operate as gambling expansion is slowly phased in.

The most immediate change is that starting later this month, casinos will be allowed to stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week if they choose.

Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall so chooses. It will stay open all day, every day starting at 8 a.m. Dec. 27. The casino is by far the state’s largest, with 4,750 slot machines and several restaurants.

“When we open on the 27th, we hope not to close again,” Maryland Live General Manager Robert J. Norton told the seven-member commission.

The Casino at Ocean Downs, just outside Ocean City, and Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County will stay open 24 hours a day on the weekends but limit their hours during the week.

“We don’t have a lot of business at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday,” said Bill Hayles, general manager at Hollywood Casino, which will still close at 2 a.m. on weekdays.

Ocean Downs will stay open one hour later on weekdays — until 3 a.m. Both casinos asked for flexibility to change their hours based on demand, and the commission also voted to give State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency staff the authority to regulate hours without prior commission approval.

The commission also approved some regulations for table games, including precise definitions of several pieces of equipment used in the play of blackjack, roulette, sic bo, pai gow and other popular table games. Sic bo is traditionally played with three dice and pai gow with dominoes.

Those regulations are still subject to a public comment period and could later be amended. But the gambling panel’s approval Thursday allows the state’s three casinos a framework through which they can begin implementing many Las Vegas-style games.

Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency Director Stephen L. Martino said he thinks table games could be ready at Maryland Live and Hollywood Casino between March and May.

Ocean Downs may take longer to implement table games while it figures out how to expand the state’s smallest slots parlor, said General Manager Joe Cavilla.

Cavilla said the facility was not originally designed with room for table games and isn’t big enough. He said he did not know when Ocean Downs might be able to add blackjack, roulette and the like to its gambling floor, which already has 800 slot machines.

Norton said Maryland Live was still in hiring mode — the casino intends to hire about 1,200 people to run table games — but the commission’s approval Thursday means it can start to craft training for applicants participating in a free dealer’s school the casino is operating in conjunction with Anne Arundel Community College.

Norton said the agency staff did “a really, really good job” researching and deciding upon regulations, using regulations in surrounding states as a guide and including Maryland casino operators throughout the process.

He added that Maryland Live executives would still draft an official response to the regulations during the public comment period, but were moving forward under the assumption that regulations were set.

Norton said there was “no official date” for table games to debut at the casino and said some “minor construction and floor modifications” were necessary before tables were installed.

“The earliest we can implement table games, we will,” he said.

Legalization of 24-hour-a-day casino operations came with passage of Question 7 on Election Day. Table games were also legalized when 52 percent of voters approved of a plan by Gov. Martin O’Malley and the General Assembly to expand gambling. Voters also approved the licensing of a casino in southern Prince George’s County.

The commission also approved regulations that will govern mini-casinos in Anne Arundel and Calvert County, which must seek a license from the lottery agency after years of operating without state supervision.

The mini-casinos operate hundreds of electronic bingo machines that play just like slot machines but award winnings based on a pre-determined order of numbers rather than random number generation. SB 864, passed by the legislature this year, put the mini-casinos under the jurisdiction of the state lottery.