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With debut of table games, a record month for Md. casinos

With dice rolling and cards being shuffled for the first time at Maryland’s largest commercial casino, statewide gambling revenue ticked up to $59 million in April, a new record that may also have indicated the evolving market has started to settle.

Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall generated $46.6 million of the statewide total, the casino’s highest-ever dollar figure. The total includes $8.4 million from its 122 new table games — roulette, blackjack and the like debuted on April 11 — and $38.2 million from its 4,217 slot machines.

The casino surprised many when, from February to March, its slots revenue jumped from $38.3 million to $44.6 million, driving a then-record $58 million in monthly revenue.

But with a poker room expansion at Maryland Live still months away and the opening of Maryland’s next mega casino at least a year away, some say gambling may have leveled off.

“I think there’s a good chance of that we’ve reached a kind of market stability with the existing casinos,” said James Karmel, a Harford Community College professor who studies the casino industry. “I think when the two out there come online, Horseshoe [Baltimore] in 2014 and the Prince George’s casino, then we’ll see for sure whether the Maryland industry is going to be attracting more out-of-state customers. That’s the big question right now.”

It was something of a surprise for some, however, to see Maryland Live’s slots revenue decreased by 14 percent. When Hollywood Casino Perryville introduced table games at its Cecil County facility in March, slots revenue rallied to more than $8 million while tables generated an extra $1.5 million. Hollywood’s revenue slid in April as slots revenue dipped to $6.9 million and 20 table games generated a total of $1.6 million.

David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said casino revenue is usually too erratic to monitor on a monthly basis.

“These things tend to be seasonal. Month to month, they’re not flat, they fluctuate,” Schwartz said. “It’s possible, without table games, slots could have fallen off more [at Maryland Live].”

The Casino at Ocean Downs in Worcester County — the only open casino not yet operating table games in Maryland — generated almost $4 million last month as its seasonal business started to pick up.

Casino operators keep one-third of gamblers’ losses. The state Education Trust Fund receives 49.25 percent of losses. The rest goes toward grants for small and women- and minority-owned businesses, local jurisdictions and horse racing.

The record revenue month comes as Maryland’s casino industry continues its dramatic expansion, though major changes are still at least a year away. Bids for a Prince George’s County casino license are due Friday, with Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International Inc. and Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National Gaming Inc. expected to fight for the right to operate a future facility at Rosecroft Raceway or National Harbor.

Meanwhile, at the remote Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County, the state’s fourth casino is expected to open on May 22. Evitts Resort LLC is finishing an extensive remodel of conference space at the once state-owned Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort, which has been renamed Rocky Gap Casino Resort.

Scott Just, the casino’s general manager, said the company was completing the renovation with an eye toward a scheduled May 20 demonstration before state gambling regulators.

“There’s not an area of this whole 170 acres that we haven’t touched in some way,” Just said.

When it does open, Rocky Gap Casino will become the first commercial gambling facility in the state to open its doors with both slot machines and table games. Other casinos have added table games after starting with just slots.

After Rocky Gap, the next casino to open in the state is expected to be Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino, which is being managed by CBAC Gaming LLC, a local group led by Caesars Entertainment Corp. That facility could open by spring 2014.