Mid-Atlantic states brace for Maryland casino expansion

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

With one Maryland casino raking in a lot of cash and two more major sites on the way, other mid-Atlantic states are fighting back in hopes of a winning hand.

The Free State's largest casino, Maryland Live! in Anne Arundel County, made more money in March slot revenue -- $44.6 million -- than any other casino in the region. That figure is helped by Maryland Live!'s newly legalized switch to 24/7 operation in late December. And casino officials expect the money it brings in to increase an additional 20 percent with the opening of 122 table games two weeks ago.

That's not the only concern of

nearby states, which are

greenlighting new facilities and starting multimillion-dollar ad campaigns. Caesars Entertainment is planning to open a Baltimore casino next year with between 80 and 110 table games and more than 3,700 slot machines, while a Prince George's County casino can open in 2016. The latter is expected to be an $800 million luxury facility at National Harbor operated by MGM Resorts International, though the state is taking bids through May 10.

Frank Fantini, CEO of Fantini Research and publisher of its Gaming Report, said Maryland's plans are "not good news" for Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He said he had heard anecdotal reports that Delaware's table game revenue is down 30 percent since Maryland Live! started letting players roll the dice.

One-armed profit
Slots revenue, March 2013
Maryland Live! $44,613,545
Parx (Pennsylvania) $36,417,120
Borgata (New Jersey) $30,802,751
Sands Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) $27,451,189
Rivers (Pennsylvania) $27,435,784
Source: Maryland Live! Casino

"The casinos in downstate Delaware get more than 50 percent of their revenues from west of the Chesapeake Bay," Fantini said. "Meanwhile, the Baltimore-Washington area probably contributes maybe 15 percent of Atlantic City, [N.J.'s,] revenue."

Delaware reduced casino licensing fees $8 million last year after legalizing sports betting in 2009. Both Delaware and New Jersey recently legalized Internet gambling -- though only state residents can take part -- and the Garden State is entrenched in court battles to join Delaware in legalizing sports betting.

Atlantic City in particular is pushing hard to ensure its boardwalk is full of Marylanders. The Atlantic City Alliance, a nonprofit funded by the city's casinos, kicked off a $20 million ad campaign in the Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia markets just a week after Maryland Live! rolled out its table games.

Nowhere will likely be hit harder, though, than the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia. With table games available closer to home and more casinos set to open, Hollywood -- and its home state -- could see its haul start to dry up. West Virginia might fight fire with fire -- the state Senate authorized a new casino in Franklin, a 721-person town near the Virginia border, earlier this month.

"Richmond, Charlottesville, Lynchburg -- that whole area could be targeted," Fantini said. "Generally, when there's legislation like that, you've already got a developer in mind."

Since it generally takes casinos a few years to reach their profit potential, he added, Maryland is likely done expanding its gambling laws for the time being. That could change, though, if more states in the region legalize online casinos.

"The politicians aren't going to be under a whole heck of a lot of pressure to expand gaming anymore," Fantini said. "That being said, when all the surrounding states have Internet gaming, it's very logical for a Maryland politician to say, 'Why not us?' "

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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