Las Vegas has casinos in a desert. Atlantic City has casinos by the ocean.
But the operators of Maryland's spectacularly successful casino about 15 miles south of Baltimore, Maryland Live, knew where they wanted to put theirs - in a shopping mall parking lot.
So far, the move has paid off huge for both the casino and the adjacent Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, Md., as the two have combined to form arguably Maryland's single biggest-drawing destination.
The mall, which was attracting 14 million visitors a year before the casino opened in June, marries luxury outlet retail, such as discounted Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, with family-fun fare - Medieval Times dinner-show and Dave & Buster's video games-sports bar. Perhaps the most popular mall anchor is the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, with an aquarium stocked with more than a dozen species of fish; a coin-operated shooting gallery; and hunting, fishing, and camping gear galore.
The builders of the Maryland Live casino, the Cordish Cos., obviously saw the potential synergy between the mall and the gambling hall they were planning.
"Here you had a retail-dining-entertainment destination with nearly 1.5 million square feet and great tenant mix," Joe Weinberg, managing partner of Cordish Cos., said of the Arundel Mills Mall. "And we were going to add the gaming along with more dining and entertainment. It was a case where one plus one equals three."
That the whole of a mall-casino combination has been greater than the sum of its parts has been evident in the results.
Gene Condon, the mall general manager, estimates that the shopping center will draw up to 18 million visitors in 2013, a jump of almost 30 percent.
Meanwhile, Maryland Live leaped to No. 1 in slots revenue earlier this year among Mid-Atlantic casinos, vaulting past established casinos in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, and was poised to challenge for the top spot overall after its first month of adding live table games in April.
"David Cordish predicted that when the casino opened, it would help the mall, and he was right," Gordon said, referring to the casino's owner. "We have seen some new clientele in the mall that is definitely coming in from the casino, and some people who come primarily for the shopping are going over there. There has definitely been an overlap."
The casino is literally steps - about 50 - from the mall's 1,100-seat food court.
After opening in June, Maryland Live has established itself as a dominant regional casino, with about 120 live table games and more than 4,000 slots. It's common to see brisk business in the casino even at midweek, with heavy action at blackjack, craps, and roulette tables that require minimum bets of $15 and $25.
This summer, the casino is expected to open a 50-table poker room.
The casino is arranged on a single floor and decorated in vibrant reds, with wide aisles and lots of signage to help patrons navigate the building. Dining options include a Cheesecake Factory, a burger restaurant under the name of celebrity chef Bobby Flay, an upscale Prime Rib steakhouse, a small outpost of Maryland-based Phillip's Seafood, and a buffet.
There's also an entertainment venue, Rams Head Center Stage, that features live music, mostly on weekends.
The Arundel Mills Mall and Maryland Live enjoy the benefit of access from good highways - from Philadelphia, it's about a 21/2-hour drive, mainly on I-95 - and there's free parking at a large surface lot and an indoor garage.
In part because the mall was opened more than a decade ago as a retail destination and also because of its proximity to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, there are about 1,500 hotel rooms within a mile of the mall-casino complex, including several hotels in the immediate area.
The mall has more than 200 stores, with many familiar upper-middle to high-end designer names - Coach, DKNY, Neiman Marcus, Saks, J Crew, Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, and Fossil. But most are the outlet versions.
"It's brands that shoppers prefer with prices that they can afford," said Condon, the mall's general manager.
In addition to the appeal of affordable luxury goods, what helps differentiate Arundel Mills Mall are some of its more surprising stores. There's a large Lego shop that draws children like a magnet. An entertainment media store called FYE sells secondhand DVDs, CDs, and even vinyl. A bookstore, BAM, offers not only books but also pop-literature geek gear and collectibles, such as Hunger Games action figures and Fifty Shades of Grey T-shirts.
The racetrack-configured mall features dozens of massage chairs, kiddie rides, even a psychic doing tarot-card readings, and a slew of dining choices from sit-down to take-out to a food court with 10 outlets.
Entertainment includes a 24-screen movie theater, Dave & Buster's, and the Medieval Times dinner-theater that features a knights-astride-steeds tournament show with jousting and swordplay in a facsimile 11th-century castle.