September 04, 2012

Maryland Live! Behind the scenes at the new Baltimore casino

Eat, shop, play. Or play, shop, eat. Any way you look at it, that's what a good casino resort is all about. It’s certainly what Maryland Live! all about.

At first glance, Maryland Live!, which opened this summer in the Baltimore suburb of Hanover, is obviously like no other gaming in the state of Maryland. For one thing, the casino is more than twice as large as anything else in the state.

But beyond the obvious comparisons to other Maryland casinos, the plain fact is that Maryland Live!, owned by Baltimore-based Cordish Companies, is a destination casino that rivals anything in the country. Slot players, in particular, will find few other venues like it. By the middle of this month, Maryland Live! will have its full contingent of 4,750 slot machines and electronic table games installed—that’s more than twice as many machines as the other two Maryland casinos combined, and No. 3 in the nation as far as slot-machine collections, behind only Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

“You would be hard-pressed to go to any casino in the country and find the variety and options we have here,” says Rob Norton, president and general manager of Maryland Live! “We have more of the best, player-favorite machines than anyone out there, and being a 15-year slot guy, I’m confident saying that.” (Norton was the top slot operations executive for years at Isle of Capri Casinos.)

Slot Operations Director Troy Hall, another 15-year slot operations veteran, agrees. “Just the sheer number of games we have allows us to have more customer favorites than other casinos,” he says. “Instead of having one or two of the most popular games, we’re able to have 10 or 20.”

There is a referendum on the statewide ballot in Maryland that could add table games to the state’s casinos after November 6, but the collection of games you’ll find at Maryland Live! makes that hardly matter. You’ll find your Wheel Of Fortune here. You’ll find your Wizard of Oz, Sex and the City, Monopoly, Hangover, American Idol, Miss Kitty, 5

Dragons, Betty Boop’s Love Meter, Playboy Hot Zone…You get the idea. If you like it, you’ll find it here.

Beyond the traditional slot games is one of the largest collections of electronic table games you’ll find anywhere: Alfastreet multi-player roulette games; Shuffle Master Table Master games like Royal Match 21 and 3 Card Poker; and a full complement of Interblock G4, the sleek electro-mechanical setups that feature unique, football-shaped play stations surrounding automated wheels, cards and dice.

Many of the electronic tables are configured around a great central bar at Maryland Live! called the “R Bar.” The R Bar is laid out in a theater style setup, with an elevated stage behind the central bar featuring live entertainment, along with a video, light and sound show. When the casino opened, the R Bar quickly became a gathering place in the casino, with the Interblock roulette games providing a front-row seat to the entertainment as well as the gambling. Bartenders double as “dealers” for the automated roulette. “You can really feel the buzz in that area,” Norton says.

The other main electronic table area is a lineup of the Shuffle Master electronic tables, which normally are equipped with a large video screen with model/actors going through the motions as “dealers” for the virtual table games. Here, though, Maryland Live! has removed the video screens in favor of real, live people, who host the games and serve cocktails.

“We’re really pleased with the results of that,” comments Norton. “We did it in our Indiana Live! property, but it’s even better here.”

Topping off the game offerings are two luxurious high-end gaming areas, one with slots only and another with slots and electronic tables. Each has a VIP lounge with all the amenities high-end players have come to expect, and each has an outdoor balcony for smokers (the main casino complex is smoke-free).


While Maryland Live! certainly has everything a slot player could want, it is the bigger picture of the entire property that really makes it unique. Cordish Companies has created “Live!”-branded developments around the country, and what they are known for is not gaming, but self-contained retail, dining and entertainment “districts.”

Maryland Live! is no exception. The casino sits on 12 acres, and including all retail and parking area, comprises more than 2 million square feet—makes it the largest opening of a casino in U.S. history, even with only half of the facility open at the June ribbon-cutting.

Those 12 acres are on the same overall parcel and adjacent to the Arundel Mills Mall, one of the largest retail complexes in the East. From anchors such as Bass Pro Shops and Burlington Coat Factory to more high end offerings like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, not to mention a 24-theater Cinemark movie complex, Arundel Mills Mall was already one of the region’s biggest draws before Maryland Live! arrived.

The massive casino complex blends right into this atmosphere, featuring the Shop Live! retail store, and an enticing lineup of restaurants including regional favorites like Chesapeake Bay standout Phillips Seafood and The Prime Rib, a new outlet of the legendary Baltimore steakhouse to open by next month. These local haunts join national favorites like Bobby’s Burger Palace, the newest restaurant by celebrity chef Bobby Flay; and The Cheesecake Factory. Rounding out the lineup are Cordish-branded outlets like the Live! Market Buffet, the Noodles Asian restaurant, and of course, the R Bar.

“We’ve done a very good job of activating the perimeter of the casino with great food-and-beverage options,” says Norton.

For entertainment, this month marks the ramp-up of Ram’s Head Center Stage, a 500-seat performance venue. Last month’s soft opening of the facility was a huge success. “People were blown away by the experience of this top-notch entertainment facility,” Norton says. “ Maryland Live! lives up to the ‘Live!’ brand in providing not only gaming, but the complete entertainment experience.”


Readers of this magazine are well aware that to get the most of any casino property, the first order of business is to join the player’s club. Maryland Live! customers didn’t have to stand in line to join the Live! Rewards club.

That’s because of one more aspect of the property that is unique not only in Maryland, but in the entire industry. Before the physical property even opened, the casino went live with “,” a play-for-fun, online casino designed for the property by slot-maker Aristocrat Technologies.

The site offers play-for-fun online versions of table games like blackjack and roulette, plus free-play versions of Aristocrat’s most popular slot games—50 Lions, Sun and Moon, Miss Kitty, More Chilli and others. Before Maryland Live! opened, the online casino went live, with customers joining the player’s club as a requirement of play.

Thousands did, and Maryland Live! had a loyal player database before the doors even opened. What’s more, the pre-signing for the player’s club relieved those players of the normal long lines to sign up for player’s cards that are typical to casino openings.

“We were the first to offer a play-for-free environment, which also drove player-card sign-ups prior to the opening of a casino, and we are extremely pleased with the results,” Norton says. “We did it not only to prepare ourselves for the opening and to expand our database, but to help people experience the kinds of products we are going to have on-property. It also prepares us for online gaming opportunities, where (after legalization of internet gaming) we will be able to move intelligently into the online space.”

From the player’s standpoint, he adds, points and comps can be earned for time spent playing in the online casino. “The system integrates with our land-based system and allows us to reward players in both direction,” he says.

More benefits start this month, when players at Maryland Live! will begin earning points for a “Car A Day” giveaway program that will ramp up in the near future. However, Norton says the best is yet to come with the Live! Rewards club. Aristocrat is just now introducing new features to its “Oasis 360” online slot system, to which all the casino’s slots are linked, which will enable interactive bonus games and awards that will soon be channeled directly to the slots as player rewards.

In fact, Maryland Live! officials are involved in creating the promotions that will go through the system to loyal players. “Basic interactive bonus tools are ready to be rolled out; we’ve already started a very strong slot promotional marketing plan,” he says. “As the system creates more advanced capabilities, we will become more creative.”

It’s just one more benefit to a casino which, for slot players in the East, is the latest must-see hot spot. “We have the latest, the greatest, the newest, and the hottest of any slots players can find, anywhere,” says Hall.

And at Maryland Live!, they’re just getting warmed up.

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