image001Maryland Live expects rise in revenue with 24-hour operations

6:30 p.m. EST, December 28, 2012By Chris Korman, The Baltimore Sun

When 2 a.m. came Friday, the sound of coins hitting metal — electronically replicated, of course, since theslot machines pay out with a printed ticket — continued at Maryland Live casino. About 1,000 people stayed where they were, plugging money into the video terminals and ordering drinks.

Terry Cohen of Randallstown was there to celebrate the new schedule that will keep the casino open 24 hours a day.

“There’s nothing to do around here at night,” she said. “The town shuts down. This is nice. It gives you a place to go and spend some time and mingle and play some slots.”

The Cordish Cos.-owned facility in Hanover became the first Maryland casino to take advantage of new state regulations allowing all-day operation, opening at 8 a.m. Thursday without any plan to close again. The expanded hours — approved by voters as part of the Question 7 referendum in November — are expected to boost casino revenue, but some worry about the impact on gambling addicts.

Rob Norton, president and general manager for Maryland Live, said the casino expects a 10 percent increase in revenue. It generated $34.4 million in November; 67 percent goes to the state.

While Norton said the economics made the decision to stay open an easy one, gambling experts see Maryland Live’s commitment to full-time operation as another move to stake out ground in an increasingly crowded scene. A Horseshoe casino is scheduled to open in Baltimore in 2014, and a casino in Prince George’s County could give Washington residents and visitors a nearby gambling spot as early as 2017.

“Maryland Live has a huge advantage, in that it is up and running and can try to build that customer loyalty that is so important,” said James Karmel, a professor at Harford Community College who has studied the gambling industry. “Those people gambling at 4 or 5 a.m. are going to be hard-core, and that’s a niche you want to establish as the market gets more crowded.”

But mental health professionals worry that the lack of a closing time will cause new gamblers susceptible to addiction to fall more quickly — and lose more money while doing so.

Evonne Gershon, coordinator of Maryland’s 24-hour problem gambling help line, plans to monitor calls over the next few weeks to measure any change caused by the new hours.

Maryland Live’s opening caused a sharp increase in calls, she said, and mental health professionals across the state have clamored for more training to deal with problems related to gaming. Some of the most difficult cases Gershon has faced since she began working with problem gamblers 18 months agocame after callers went on long binges.

“Once I talked to someone who was suicidal after spending 24 hours in a casino and spending everything they had,” she said. “Staying open all the time means that much more temptation.”

Maryland Live is required to post the number for the help line, and pays $475 per machine — with 4,750 machines, that’s $2.26 million — each year into a state fund set aside to assist treatment of compulsive gambling.

“Maryland has one of the most extensive problem-gaming programs out there, and we work closely with them,” Norton said. “We are being proactive, and we do not anticipate an increase in instances of problem gaming. We see [staying open] as an attempt to reach out to a group that might live a different lifestyle, not something predatory on the casino’s part.”

Maryland Live officials already had some idea of the market for early morning gambling, as about 500 people were placing final bets at closing time on an average night.

Norton said the longer hours will open the casino to those who were unable to make it under the previous schedule — 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. (4 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays). He believes shift workers, people with irregular schedules and night owls will make use of the expanded hours; many of the people at the casino early Friday fit into those categories.

Solomon Fersha, a limousine driver from Silver Spring, came into the casino about 7 a.m. between runs. A regular patron — and member of the VIP program — Fersha often finds himself with downtime between trips and looks forward to being able to gamble on his own schedule.

“It doesn’t feel good when they tell you to leave,” he said.

Antonio Wilkins, a chef at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore, said he is not a gambler but often accompanies his wife to the casino. They arrived at 11 p.m. Thursday and stayed more than nine hours. They’d driven to Delaware for similar sessions in the past.

“It’s much better to be here, closer to home, putting the money back into the state where we live,” he said. Wilkins said he and his wife will continue to use the overnight hours because they fit into his sleep schedule; his work shift often starts at midnight, and he is accustomed to sleeping during the day.

Cohen said she had grown tired of driving to Delaware to take advantage of full-day operations there

Casino’s first early morning draws small, dedicated crowd
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