Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Maryland Live poker room draws crowd on opening day

Maryland Live Casino’s 52-table poker room opened just before noon on Wednesday with more than 150 people waiting in line to gamble.

Maryland Live poker room

Sen. James DeGrange, standing at left, D-Anne Arundel, whose district includes Maryland Live Casino, watches with General Manager Robert J. Norton as the first hand is dealt Wednesday at the casino’s new poker room. (Alexander Pyles/The Daily Record)

By 12:30 p.m., that number had nearly tripled, as a line stretched from the new poker room’s entrance to the casino’s “R Bar,” snaking through and past the casino’s other 122 table games such as blackjack and roulette.

In the latest — and perhaps final — major expansion of what is already Maryland’s largest and most successful casino, the Cordish Cos.’ gambling experiment next to the Arundel Mills mall appeared to pass muster with poker players, who have eagerly waited for the chance to play tournament-style games of chance.

John Hannigan, of Bowie, said poker was a better game when played against others, rather than only the house. He arrived at the casino at 3 a.m. Wednesday and decided to wait for the poker room to open at noon when he saw that a line had not yet formed.

“I wasn’t planning on coming out because I thought it was going to be a zoo,” said Hannigan, who started the line and became one of the first people to play a hand just before noon. The actual first hand was played about 11:30 a.m. by 10 people who won a contest on social media for the honor.

Once the rest of the public was allowed to enter — 10 at a time to preserve order, a casino spokeswoman said — more than 110 people were playing hands within 25 minutes. By 1:30 p.m., 30 of the poker room’s 52 tables were full and several hundred people still waited to enter.

Robert J. Norton said the poker room, which can accommodate 520 players and will host daily tournaments, was “the last piece of our puzzle.”

Sen. James E. “Ed” DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said he saw tax revenue and jobs for nearly 3,000 people when he looked around the casino.

“I think it’s a state-of-the-art facility,” DeGrange said. “They’ve done everything, from Day One, what they said they would do. … The Cordish Cos. should be extremely proud, as we are and the citizens of Anne Arundel County should be.”

The poker room opening should put an end to the seemingly nonstop stream of opening events and announcements at Maryland Live, which first opened its doors in June 2012. Norton said Wednesday’s opening was the 20th event the casino had held in the last 20 months.

Unlike some early events, the opening did not cause massive traffic backups in the Hanover area. But long lines have become the norm when new amenities open. Bernard Maiden was among those lucky enough to be near the front of the line just before 11 a.m.

Maiden, a Randallstown resident, said he plays in three separate poker leagues and likes to think of himself as a serious strategist. Part of his strategy on Wednesday involved rising early in the morning to make a custom T-shirt with the moniker “Mr. Possibilities” written across the front and back.

Even though he had to make his outfit before coming to the casino, Maiden was in line by 7:30 a.m. and among the first to get a seat in the poker room. A moment before 11:58 a.m., he anxiously gazed toward the playing cards waiting on the red felt table.

“Shuffle up and deal,” a casino employee said, and applause quickly gave way to the sound of shuffling cards and clicking money chips.