If Maryland Live! Casino were a sports team, it would have two championship trophies to celebrate its two-year anniversary.
Since opening in June 2012 and becoming Maryland's largest gambling hall, Maryland Live! has consistently been at the top of the revenue list among all casinos in the mid-Atlantic region in apples-to-apples comparisons. There are currently 30 casinos in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
April 2014 was typical. That month, Maryland Live! generated about $56.5 million in slots and table games revenues. In the mid-Atlantic region, the Borgata in Atlantic City, N.J., was second with about $48.2 million, excluding promotional slots play, and No. 3 was Parx Casino in suburban Philadelphia with $40.4 million. Within the state, Maryland Live! usually represents 75-80 percent of revenues among the four operating casinos.
Granted, the revenue standings will get tighter because of competition from Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, which is being built on Russell Street, south of M&T Stadium, and opening later this summer. But by any measure, Maryland Live! -- with more than 4,200 slots, 137 live table games and a 52-table card room -- has been a home run.
"When you talk about opening a casino, it's not a foregone conclusion that it's going to be successful, as we've seen from some projects over the last few years that have struggled," said Rob Norton, Maryland Live! president and general manager. "In our case, the success that we've had started with the planning of the location and how this casino was conceived, situating it between Baltimore and Washington with great access.
"That was the start of a series of great decisions, everything from the ease of getting from the parking garage to the casino, to the casino design, to making sure we were ready for table games even before they were approved."
After a referendum approving expanded gambling in November 2012, Maryland Live! raised the curtain on live table games in April 2013 and then opened a two-level poker room in August.
"In any business, if you're not changing or adjusting, you're declining or dying," Norton said. "We put a lot of thought every day into what happens inside these walls and considering what we can do to adjust, to take a challenge and turn it into a strength."
As an example, Norton mentioned a subtle operational adjustment that now allows casino personnel to respond to slots players' needs in a few minutes. And then there have been more high-profile capital improvements, such as the recent addition of Luk Fu, an Asian dim sum and noodles restaurant.
"We're going to keep doing that, making the operational adjustments, the blocking and tackling of our business," Norton said, "and continuing to invest in more amenities."
David Cordish, chairman and CEO of the Cordish Companies, which built and operates Maryland Live!, has suggested a long-range plan of adding a hotel at the casino. Norton said a hotel had been part of the master plan since the beginning, and the company was continuing to work on it.
In news reports, Cordish said the project would be a $200 million, 300-room, mid- to high-rise hotel and spa, which could open in 2016 and serve as another way to comp casino players.
Maryland Live!'s success has also been good news for the state's public schools, the horse racing industry, local nonprofits and thousands of casino workers.
The casino industry has provided more than $935 million in various obligations since September 2010, and along the way, Maryland Live! has become the state's biggest taxpayer. Through the end of April, the Maryland Education Trust Fund was the beneficiary of almost $700 million in casino money; nearly $118 million had gone to horse racing interests; and almost $20 million to small, minority and women's businesses.
"It's been awesome to be part of that," Norton said.
Aside from casino tax revenues that have gone to the statutorily mandated recipients, there has been a ripple effect produced by 3,500 casino jobs, such as income taxes to the state and federal governments, and the boost to the local economy.
"We know we're viewed as a major contributor as a tourist destination in the Arundel Mills area, but just as important to us is our community involvement and that we are also seen as a family company that is a part of this community," Norton said. "We've directly given $50 million to local nonprofits as part of that commitment. We see it as an important part of our charter, and I think we've done a good job of living up to that charter."
The World Series of Poker is currently under way in Las Vegas with 62 events being played through mid-July. Then, there will be the customary four-month break until November, when the Main Event final table will be played.
One of the more attention-grabbing tournaments being held this summer at the WSOP is called The Big One for One Drop, and it will take place June 29-July 1. The One Drop part of the name is because 11 percent of the buy-in fees go toward international water relief efforts.
Then, there's the Big One part. To take a seat at this particular poker game, it costs $1 million.
The field is limited to 56 registrants, and if the event gets that many starters, the winner earns $20 million.
To be clear, many of the players in the Big One will have financial backers who will invest in the most talented players in exchange for a share of that person's winnings, if there are any.
Among the confirmed entrants, so far, are three Marylanders, and it's possible there will be at least a fourth.
These are the confirmed.
• Tony Gregg, of Columbia, is as talented as he is quiet. He's no stranger to these huge buy-in tournaments, although $1 million is deep water even for Gregg. At last year's One Drop High Roller event, for which the buy-in was $111,111, Gregg finished first and earned $4.8 million.
• Dan "Jungleman" Cates, of Bowie, is better known for his online poker exploits than for what he's done in brick-and-mortar casinos. But he is not without a live tournament portfolio. Cates had a second-place finish at a high roller event in Monte Carlo that was worth $1.7 million.
• Phil Galfond, originally from North Potomac, is known as a cerebral player with lots of success both online and live. He won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2008 and finished second during a WSOP event last year.
Not confirmed, as of press time, is Greg Merson, the 2012 WSOP Main Event champion, who is from Laurel. It would be a surprise if Merson is not in the Big One, though. He has been sharp during the early weeks of the WSOP, and there should be folks willing to invest in him.