March 15, 2009

The Gamble

David Cordish hopes Marylanders wary of his plans for a casino at Arundel Mills mall will be seduced by the extravagant refinement of Indiana Live!, his firm’s first developed-and-operated casino, where the Baltimore builder presided over a glittery grand opening Friday night.

A capacity crowd of 8,000 jammed the casino floor for hours. They stood in winding lines for access to corporate-branded restaurants such as a Maker’s Mark steakhouse and glitzy nightclubs designed for the 233,000-square-foot facility, and clogged the highway in and out of Shelbyville, Ind., population 18,000.

Hundreds more stood outside in frigid temperatures for hours, determined to gain entry to the casino appointed with opulent touches like a white onyx bar and private lounges for big spenders. Night life promoter G.T. Pollard of Indianapolis described the venue as “10 times better” than offerings in Indianapolis.

Shelbyville Mayor Scott A. Furgeson, whose area has been hit hard by auto industry layoffs, said the $225 million casino is now the biggest employer in town. Maryland would be “foolish” not to welcome a Cordish casino with its proposed 4,750 slot machines, he said, lavishing praise on the company’s money-is-no-object style of upscale development.

In Maryland, Cordish’s proposal for one of five slots licenses authorized by voters last year was the rare bullish response from casino operators, many of whom were scared off by high gambling taxes, a credit crunch, and a recession that has depressed the gambling economy.