HANOVER, Md. - Maryland Live, the largest and most successful of the state's three operating casinos, introduced dealer-staffed table games late last week, doubling its workforce seemingly overnight - and, some say, amping up its threat to gambling halls in Atlantic City and Delaware, plus at least one casino along I-95 in Pennsylvania.
Craps player Nick Giron, 28, of Prince George County, said he'd be cutting back on his trips to Atlantic City. It's a 30-minute drive to Maryland Live vs. three hours to the Shore, where he typically plays craps at the Borgata.
"I'll probably go to Atlantic City every two weeks, and I'll come here daily to gamble for an hour or so," Giron said as he placed a bet at a packed Maryland Live on Friday afternoon.
Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., which owns and operates Maryland Live, wants to showcase its success in running this massive casino as an example of what it could do with Philadelphia's second gaming license, now up for grabs. Competition is stiff, with five others in the hunt, including gambling mogul Steve Wynn.
Cordish, in partnership with Parx owner Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., plans a $425 million Live Hotel and Casino at 900 Packer Ave., near the sports complex. Cordish co-owns, with Comcast-Spectacor, the Xfinity Live entertainment and dining complex next to the stadiums.
"The story is what's happening with Maryland Live," Reed Cordish, vice president of Cordish Cos., said as he surveyed the busy gaming floor on the casino's first full day with 4,750 slot machines and 122 new table games. "We're a developer of well-designed destination and entertainment projects. We took that experience and applied it to casinos and to gaming. As a result . . . our casino projects are about so much more than just gaming."
For Atlantic City, it means still more marauders at the gate. Gambling revenue has already taken a significant hit as casinos in Pennsylvania (11 so far) and New York state have opened or expanded into table games.
"Individual casinos and markets may see declines as a result of the continuing expansion throughout the mid-Atlantic," said analyst Joe Weinert of Linwood, N.J.,-based Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C., "but we expect the region as a whole to continue modest growth - with a major caveat being the health of the economy and consumer confidence."
The $500 million Maryland Live Casino is about halfway between Baltimore and Washington. It sits within the Arundel Mills Commercial District, which includes three million square feet of retail, entertainment, and commercial space and 1,200 hotel rooms.
As the state's top-grossing gambling hall, Maryland Live generated $45 million in gross slots revenue last month - No. 1 in the mid-Atlantic, ahead of Parx.
Two more casinos are being built in Maryland, and proposals for a sixth casino will soon be accepted.
In November, just two years after Hollywood Casino Perryville by Penn National Gaming Inc., Maryland's first casino, opened, state voters approved the referendum that paved the way for table games such as blackjack and poker.
They've since siphoned away some gamblers who frequented casinos in Atlantic City or Delaware.
"Oh, yeah. I definitely voted for it," said account executive Melissa Muse, 44, of Upper Marlboro, on Friday afternoon, Muse, who counted herself a regular at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Delaware, was sitting at a three-card poker table at Maryland Live.
On table games in Maryland, Weinert said: "We believe the impact on Pennsylvania will be immaterial, but could be significant for Delaware."
Western Pennsylvania's casinos have felt the negative effects of Ohio's four new casinos, and state regulators in Harrisburg are bracing for Maryland's table games to steal some patrons as well.
"That ramped-up competition will certainly be challenging to casinos in Pennsylvania, but it is too early to fully gauge the impact," said Doug Harbach, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Wall Street analysts say Harrah's Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack in Chester, on the I-95 corridor heading south, is the one most likely to feel Maryland's latest punch.
"Harrah's Philadelphia will see a small hit, but we don't see other Philadelphia casinos realizing a significant decline in table play," said gaming analyst John Kempf of RBC Capital Markets L.L.C.
But for struggling Atlantic City, the hurt could be greater. The resort's dozen casinos generated $238.5 million in total gaming revenue last month, down 10.5 percent from March 2012, when 11 casinos generated $266.5 million, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement reported Wednesday. Table-game revenue was down 12.8 percent compared with March 2012.
"Absolutely, there will be some cannibalization," said Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, the nonprofit charged with rebranding the resort. "Why wouldn't there be?"
Ironically, Cartmell, was in Baltimore on Thursday, touting the alliance's new $20 million ad campaign the same day Maryland Live started up its table games. Ads featuring gamblers at the tables in Atlantic City debut Monday in Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore.
"There's a group of gamers out there that we need to convince that Atlantic City is a destination for them to enjoy," Cartmell said. "There's entertainment dollars out there, and we're going after those gaming dollars."