September 21, 2013

Maryland Live! cashes in good will with charity events

The Casey Cares Foundation rocked the stage at Maryland Live! casino in Hanover Saturday night.

It’s the same space where names like Charlie Daniels, Macy Gray, Kansas and the Spin Doctors have wowed crowds in the last year — Rams Head Center Stage.

But instead of music and good times, the foundation and its guests headed to what is becoming a venue of choice for nonprofits looking to raise funds and their profile. For some of them, the chance to use it comes for free — a donation by the casino that can be worth as much as $25,000.

“One of our top priorities at Maryland Live! is to become a leading community steward and serve as a role model for other regional business organizations to step up and make a difference in their own communities,” Carmen Gonzales, a spokeswoman for the casino said in an email.

In the last year, nonprofits that have used the facility or booked it for future events include Leadership Anne Arundel, the Anne Arundel Community College Foundation and the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County.

Casey Baynes, founder and executive director of the Casey Cares Foundation, said Rams Head Center Stage and the casino are an ideal place to host an event. It’s centrally located, close to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and dozens of hotels, and has plenty of entertainment beyond the event itself.

The foundation, which provides programs and support for critically ill children and their families, brought its annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Bash to the casino for the first time Saturday.

It featured a mixed lineup of musicians from the Billy Joel Band, Bon Jovi, the David Letterman Band, .38 Special, John Cougar Mellencamp, Southside Johnny and the Saturday Night Live Band. A $10,000 raffle added to the excitement.

“It’s a cool atmosphere, and some guests are making a weekend out of it,” Baynes said. “People are coming from all over the mid-Atlantic. It’s now one of the things they must do every year.”

Supporting community
The difference between Maryland Live! and other hotels or catering halls where nonprofits stage big fundraisers is money. The casino can donate the space, food, drinks and services.

Claire Louder, CEO of the West County Chamber of Commerce, said the casino isn’t looking at the events for profit.

The chamber has held two events at the casino and will hold the Tour and Taste of West County there on Oct. 16.

The casino donated Rams Head Center Stage for the event and will allow participating restaurants to bring their own food and beverages into the casino.

“They are very easy to work with and, instead of this being a business transaction, it’s about supporting the community,” Louder said. “It’s making it more cost effective for us to host this event.”

Having the space donated can be a huge savings for nonprofits. It’s sometimes difficult to find a venue that can support a charity event and the right price.

“It’s very expensive to have events, and that’s why we don’t have many events. It’s so draining on the organization,” Baynes said.

“We work all year long to get as much donated as possible in kind. We want to raise any penny we can so we can infuse that money into our program.”

For Casey Cares, the donation of Rams Head Center Stage extends an existing relationship. Baynes said the Cordish Cos., which owns the casino, has sponsored her group in the past.

More options
For the Anne Arundel Community College Foundation, Oct. 17 will be its first fundraiser at the casino. The college works with the casino on training programs and has two facilities nearby.

Lisa Jacobs, director of major and planned giving at the foundation, said planning for All In — A Celebration in Support of AACC has taken 12 months.

In past years, the foundation held its annual fundraiser at hotels. The advantage of Maryland Live! are the wider entertainment options.

“I think it’s a new, exciting event for us,” Jacobs said. “We stopped doing a black tie gala in lieu of doing something more fun for a younger executive audience.”

Bess Langbein, executive director of the Community Foundation, said her organization already has made arrangements to hold the closing rally in May again for the Great Give, a 24-hour fundraising challenge for Anne Arundel County nonprofits.

“It’s a large space that can host a large crowd,” Langbein said. “Part of their sponsorship included a great band. The food could be set up right down the middle of the space. The parking was easy.”

‘Good citizen’
Gonzales, the casino spokeswoman, said the events do have a reward for the casino, but that isn’t the main purpose of the decision behind them.

“It does expose Maryland Live! casino and Rams Head Center Stage to an audience that possibly hasn’t been here before, or might not normally come to visit a casino,” she said.

“We have received incredibly positive feedback and, in some cases, we have been able to book other events because of their great experience.”

The Prime Rib restaurant at the casino has become a popular place for events that Gonzales said stemmed from a series of complimentary happy hours offered to member business organizations as an introduction. They helped build relationships with the business community.

Louder of the West County Chamber said supporting community groups will make the casino a more successful business.

“People had concerns that (the casino) wouldn’t be a good citizen. And they have been a good citizen,” she said.


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