Maryland Live casino may add high-rise hotel, convention space

Gary Haber
Staff Reporter- Baltimore Business Journal

Maryland Live, the state’s largest casino, expects to add a high-rise hotel with space to accommodate conventions and conferences.

“It’s only a question of when,” Cordish Cos. chairman David Cordish said Wednesday following a press conference at the Arundel Mills casino. “Believe me, it’s on my radar screen.”

Maryland Live has the land to accommodate a hotel and the Anne Arundel County market needs a hotel that can offer convention and conference space, said Cordish, a major Baltimore real estate developer. The size of the hotel is yet to be determined, he said.

Cordish’s remarks came after he unveiled plans for Maryland Live to add 150 table games, including blackjack and roulette, and a poker room with 30 to 50 poker tables. The plans come after Maryland voters narrowly approved the addition of table games in a Nov. 6 statewide referendum.

Cordish Cos. will spend an additional $40 million on the expanded gaming options. It will also add another 1,200 jobs to the casino’s current workforce of about 3,000. The table games and poker room are expected to be up and running by spring 2013.

“We’re going to reach a new audience and feel a different level of excitement and energy inside the facility,” Cordish said, standing at a podium inside the casino’s Rams Head Center Stage concert venue flanked by a bevy of Maryland Live cocktail waitresses outfitted in black hot pants and fishnet stockings. Cordish made his way to the podium to the strains of Kenny Rogers’ hit “The Gambler.”

Cordish also unveiled Maryland Live’s plans to offer a free program to train people who want to become table games and poker dealers at the casino. About 800 of the 1,200 jobs Maryland Live plans to add will be for card dealers and others related to table games and poker.

The jobs are expected to pay between $50,000 and $75,000 annually, including tips. The vast majority of those jobs are expected to go to Maryland residents, Cordish said.

“I would be very, very shocked and surprised if almost everyone we’re hiring aren’t Maryland residents,” he said.

The casino’s dealer school will start classes on Jan. 7. The program will be offered in association with Anne Arundel Community College.

To make room for the table games and poker room, Maryland Live will reduce the number of slot machines by less than 10 percent, officials said. The casino has 4,750 currently, making it the third-largest commercial casino in the U.S. behind casinos at Aqueduct Raceway and Yonkers Raceway in the New York City area.

Cordish also touched on Question 7, the statewide referendum that will add a sixth casino in Prince George’s County and table games at all of the state’s casinos.

It would have been better if the General Assembly had bifurcated the two issues, so voters could’ve weighed in on the addition of table games and a sixth casino separately, he said.

But Cordish, who stayed on the sidelines during the contentious debate over Question 7, said Maryland Live can withstand a casino being built in Prince George’s County. That casino, whether at National Harbor or Rosecroft Raceway, won’t be allowed to open until 2016, or 30 months after Caesars Entertainment Corp. (NASDAQ: CZR) opens its casino in Baltimore, which is scheduled for 2014.

That delay, gives Maryland Live “a running start,” Cordish said.

“We’ll take full advantage to build a loyal customer base,” he said.

As for Maryland Live, while Cordish said he has no plans to sell a stake in the casino, he wouldn’t rule it out.

Penn National Gaming (NASDAQ: PENN), the owner of Hollywood Casino Perryville, reportedly talked with Cordish about buying a stake in Maryland Live.

Cordish didn’t address Penn National specifically, but said he often hears from companies that want to buy a piece of his casino.

“We have been, since we broke ground, approached by New York Stock Exchange gaming companies to see if they could join us on multiple occasions,” Cordish said.

“I don’t say ‘No, no, never, never,” he said. “We don’t have any plans to sell.”

Meanwhile, Cordish is partnering with Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment, which owns Parx casino in Bensalem, Pa., on a bid to build a casino in South Philadelphia.The other bidders reportedly include Las Vegas casino mogul, Steve Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts, and Philadelphia real estate developer Bart Blatstein. Cordish said he likes his company’s chances.

“There are some very good companies competing against us,” Cordish said. “We’ve competed before against the big boys and we’ve beaten them.”

Cordish Co.’s Philadelphia casino would have about 2,500 slots and about 120 table games, he said.

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