Md. sets stage for expanded hours, table games at casinos

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

BALTIMORE - Maryland officials approved expanded hours and preliminary table game regulations Thursday as gambling expands across the state.

The Casino at Ocean Downs near Ocean City and Hollywood Casino in Perryville were granted longer weekday hours and all-day operation on weekends by the state gambling commission, while Maryland Live! Casino in Anne Arundel County will begin 24/7 operations on Dec. 27.

"When we open on the 27th, we hope not to close again," Maryland Live! President Rob Norton told the commission. The casino has averaged about $32.2 million in monthly revenue since it opened in June -- much more than Ocean Downs' $4.6 million and Hollywood Casino's $6.4 million over the same period.

Highlights from the new table games rules
• While most chip denominations are separated into basic colors like red, blue and gold, $1,000 chips must be "fire orange."
• Shipments of dice must immediately be "transported to a secure area which is covered by the facility operator's surveillance system under the supervision of at least two employees."
• Poker cards can be used for only three months -- after that, they must be replaced.
• All chips, game equipment and coupons -- along with the containers they're transported in -- must be approved by an independent testing laboratory.

All three, though, are expecting revenue to rise once table games are implemented. More games also mean more jobs.

"Maryland Live! alone is going to send us more than 1,000 applications for new employees," said Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino, who added that he expects table games to be ready in the spring.

The commission took a step toward implementation by approving a set of preliminary regulations for table games and rule guidelines for blackjack and craps. The commission still needs to set rules for 15 other games and give the new regulations a public hearing.

Martino said the state based the new regulations on those of Pennsylvania, which are in turn based on neighboring New Jersey's. There was some minor give and take with casino companies as the rules were drafted.

"We didn't adopt every change that they wanted," Martino said. "But I think we've been fair and flexible."

Compromises include a requirement of one floor supervisor for every six table games -- the state wanted one for every four, while casinos wanted one for every eight -- and the removal of a $5,000 credit limit on players.

Casinos are eager to get table games up and running before they face more competition, and they wasted little time preparing their plans and their requests for longer hours after Maryland voters approved Question 7, which allows for table games and round-the-clock operation as well as a new casino in Prince George's County.

While the Prince George's casino can't open until 2016, Caesars is opening a casino in Baltimore in 2014. An official told the commission the troubled Rocky Gap casino is on track to open in June.

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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