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Rocky Gap casino to test poker tables

Rocky Gap Casino Resort got the go-ahead Thursday to test the addition of a poker room with three new tables.

The Rocky Gap Casino opened with 558 slot machines and 10 table games in a former conference room, which filled up that space. To add poker tables, the casino is expanding further into the lodge.

The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency approved an Oct. 3 controlled demonstration of the new room at Rocky Gap, Maryland’s smallest casino, located in Allegany County. If the demonstration is successful, the casino plans to open the tables Oct. 7.

Adding tables would not ordinarily require a demonstration, said lottery agency Director Stephen Martino, but this addition will require an expansion of the casino space into the hotel atrium.

The casino opened in May with 558 slot machines and 10 table games in what was once conference space at the lodge. With that space filled to capacity, the casino will have to place the new tables in its atrium. In order to prevent underage hotel patrons from entering the poker area, it will have to build a barrier with a controlled entrance.

“Having poker wasn’t an original part of the consideration,” said Martino. The poker room requires a demonstration “since they’re going outside of the footprint of the current surveillance floor.”

Martino said that the approval Thursday was “ordinary,” but perhaps indicative of requests from customers. The casino’s general manager, Scott Just, could not be reached for comment.

Rocky Gap already offered three-card poker, but players in that game play against the house. In the more traditional games being added, said Martino, the customers will be able to play each other, with the dealer as a facilitator.

Also at the commission meeting Thursday, Martino said that year-over-year traditional lottery sales remain low, likely due to the increase of gaming opportunities at the state’s four open casinos. Gaming at these facilities cannibalizes lottery sales, said Martino, who expects those numbers to remain low as casinos open in Baltimore and then in Prince George’s County.

Lottery sales began to drop with the opening of Maryland Live Casino last year, said Martino, which was expected. He had hoped to see year-over-year improvements after Maryland Live’s one-year anniversary, but “the dynamic has been completely changed with adding table games,” which began in March at Hollywood Casino Perryville.

“Before the casinos, [if] you were in the state of Maryland, you played the lottery,” he said. “Now, given the proximity that they have to in-state facilities that offer all games, we’re starting to see the impact of that.”

Allegany County Commissioners President Michael McKay said even the state’s smallest casino has had a visible impact on the rest of the community and welcomed the expansion of table games at Rocky Gap.

“More people will be able to enjoy Western Maryland,” he said. “I know it’s early, but signs are all good that Allegany County is on the map.”