The Nose went all in at the Maryland Live! Casino’s VIP preopening event June 6 at Arundel Mills Mall. We drank the free drinks and ate the free crab cakes and gawked freely at the scantily clad dancing girls up on the bar—and tried, unsuccessfully, to gamble with the free $50 we learned, belatedly, had been available to us. We drank the punch and took the soup, so to speak, so you really shouldn’t trust us on this. But it was fun pretending to be a VIP when, as everyone who knows us knows, we are really an NIP (a not-important person, that is, a term we first heard while hanging out on the casino’s smokers’ balcony).
Since the media table was swarmed when we first arrived, and we had to pee, we postponed checking in for our credentials and went off looking for a bathroom. Donning a white Smarty Jones thoroughbred horse-racing T-shirt (a mall-appropriate outfit, we thought, especially for going to a mall casino designed, in part, to help finance Maryland’s horse-racing industry), we quickly attracted the attention of the security detail, which was nearly as well-dressed as the suit-and-gown crowd of VIPs.
Two tall, stern men with earpieces asked us what we were doing, and our answer—that we were press, heading over to pick up our credentials—prompted a Catch-22 request to see our credentials. Our business card did not suffice, he said, showing us his laminated ID as an example of proper documentation. When we observed that his was nothing more than a laminated business card, one of them didn’t like our mouthiness, so we stuck out our wrists as if volunteering to be handcuffed. He didn’t like this, either, and took us by the elbow to navigate the crowd and escort us to the media room.
We quickly got our pass and put it on, now free to wander without fear among the VIPs and imported showgirls (bussed down from the Big Apple for the night, two of them explained to us). The Cirque du Soleil-like trappings were sometimes a little creepy, such as the masked showgirls on stilts made to look like hoofed horse legs, and the Nose, succumbing to imaginary paranoia, sometimes wondered whether some of them might secretly be bloodsucking vampires—an appropriate metaphor, given the money-sucking probabilities of electronic gaming. Mostly the showgirls were a hit, though, especially the one whose dress fanned out to become a moving dessert table.
The first VIP we recognized was state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D-45th District), as he took the elevator from the parking garage down to the heart of the action. Then we saw Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D), and told him there were dancers on the bar, to which he responded, “What? I gotta stay away from that.” Former Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon, though, wasn’t so prudish. She was front and center at the bar when we spotted her, a dancer grinding away before her. She was reticent, though—as is her right, now that she’s a regular citizen who, presumably, has no love for the press.
Perhaps the most priceless VIP glimpse we got, though, was of one lobbyist backslapping another. Sean Malone, who counts Hollywood Casino Perryville operator Penn National Gaming among his clients, gregariously greeted Bruce Bereano, whose roster includes a slot-machine maker, some old-school “amusement only” gaming-device vendors, Patapsco Bingo (where City Paper recently went to play “sweepstakes” computer-based games [“Sweepstakes Take,” Mobtown Beat, May 9, 2012]), and Rosecroft Raceway’s harness-racing horse owners. These guys are both clearly happy about the flow of money Maryland’s growing gambling industry is unleashing.
We did our part to contribute to the largess, fishing some dollar bills out of our manpri pockets to play “Deuces Wild” draw poker while drinking beer at the bar. We quickly lost $2 in quarter bets. Then we slid a five-spot in, grew it to $9.50, cashed out, and ordered a Manhattan while we chatted with a dean at Anne Arundel Community College. During our next round of play, we promptly lost all our winnings, and were left penniless. Later, we re-upped at the ATM, paying a $4 surcharge to get money to tip our cocktail waitress.
The oversized casino holds a capacity crowd of 12,000, which it apparently reached upon opening the doors to the public at 10 p.m., since only a few people at a time, out of the NIP throngs lined up outside, were allowed in to join the VIPs. The Cordish Cos. is spending a half-billion dollars to build the place, and it’s not done yet. The casino’s 3,200 electronic gambling devices will, when construction is completed this fall, be joined by another 1,550 machines, a total that rivals the biggest casinos in the country.
For its neighbors, though, the Maryland Live! Casino must be shaping up to be a nettlesome prospect. When the Nose departed at about 10:30 p.m., the traffic—both entering and exiting the place—was at a near stand-still. God forbid anyone needs to get quickly to a hospital. Fortunately, our photographer, who grabbed an eggroll on the way out and immediately puked in the parking garage, then again on the roadside en route back to Baltimore, didn’t need to.