November 15, 2012

Competing with Gaming's big boys

Cordish ready to take on Vegas, A.C.

As Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” played over the sound system at Maryland Live! Casino, David S. Cordish strode front and center – an attractive 20-something woman on each arm and four more in tow – to tout the newfound national might of his gambling emporium.

Cordish, with women later identified as “ladies of Live” cocktail waitresses standing at attention behind him, proudly proclaimed Wednesday that with poker, blackjack and the like now legal, his casino in Hanover will stand toe-to-toe with those in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

It was a significant departure for The Cordish Cos. Chairman who, before the General Assembly passes legislation in August to expand casino gambling in Maryland, was dead-set against the expansion because it authorized a voter referendum on the licensing of a casino in Prince George’s County in addition to legalizing table games.

In a spectacle of a news conference at the casino’s concert venue that included a boxing-style public address announcer and women wearing low-cut tops and high-rise shorts, Cordish said the legislature should have separated the issue of table games from the licensing of a sixth state casino.

But he also sounded confident that his $500 million facility next to Arundel Mills mall would stack up to in-state competition that already includes Caesars Entertainment Corp. and could include MGM Resorts International Inc.

“We’ll compete very well, thank you,” said Cordish, wearing a dark suit and deep-red tie. “[But] the logical way to do it was for us to get established…and then look at the issue of expansion.”

If the table game issue had been separated from the sixth casino, table games would have passes “98 [percent] to 2,” he said. Fifty-two percent of voters last week approved an expansion of gambling.

Maryland Live! executives officially announced during the news conference that they will hire and train 800 employees to run such games at the casino.

Another 400 people are expected to be hired to fill security, marketing and human resources jobs.  The addition would give the casino more than 2,700 employees and The Cordish Cos. 10,000 employees nationwide, Cordish said.

A free, 12-week dealer school is being offered by the casino in conjunction with Anne Arundel Community College.  Classes start Jan. 7 at Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie.  Information sessions will be held over the next month in Bethesda, Hunt Valley, Ellicott City and Annapolis.

Robert J. Norton, Maryland Live!’s General Manager, said 150 table games will be added to the casino floor, plus “30 to 50” poker tables, which will be installed in a separate area.  Cordish said an “insignificant number” of slot machines will be removed from the casino – about 10 percent of the 4,750 machines – and that there would still be well over 4,000 machines.

The state’s top fiscal analyst said Tuesday that is casinos remove slots to make room for table games, tax revenue would probably fall short of projections.

The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission must approve table games regulations before casinos can implement those games.  The commission will meet for the first time Thursday, and lottery Director Stephen L. Martino said last week he expected regulations to be completed in January.

Norton said Maryland Live!’s table games would be ready shortly thereafter.

“We’re expecting to be flipping cards and rolling die by early spring,” Norton said. He added that the casino will stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week 30 days after the Nov. 6 election is certified by state officials.

Cordish also said he “absolutely” is thinking about building a high-rise hotel and convention center to complement Maryland Live!, a plan he alluded to this summer.

“Believe me, it’s on my radar screen,” Cordish said. He added the casino’s footprint only took 80 percent of the land allotted by Simon Property Group, which owns Arundel Mills.

What’s not on his radar screen is a full or partial sale of Maryland Live! Penn National Gaming Inc., which spent $42 million campaigning against gambling expansion in Maryland to protect a casino it owns in West Virginia, was rumored to have interest in buying a significant stake in Cordish’s casino.

Penn National also operates Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County, a would have to give up that license in order to buy more than 5 percent of Maryland Live!

Cordish said he has been frequently approached by “New York Stock Exchange-type” casino companies looking to buy into the business, but didn’t name Penn National as a suitor.  For now, “there’s no for-sale sign” outside, he said.

“Being approached is one thing,” Cordish said.  “It’s like asking the pretty girl to the dance. She has to say yes.”