Overlooking the nation’s capital, and at a pricetag of $1.4 billion, the MGM National Harbor Casino is upping the stakes for the entire mid-Atlantic casino market.
Here comes MGM National Harbor
The casino, which sits just outside of Washington, D.C., on the banks of the Potomac River, will officially open for business on Thursday. MGM’s resort casino is a potential game-changer; it’s the biggest and swankiest in the region and has arguably one of the best locations in the country.
The District is a location that casino developers have long coveted, but local lawmakers shot them all down. The region had been unimpressed with proposals and was fearful of getting what amounts to a slots parlor. That was until MGM came calling in 2012.
A 2012 ballot referendum, predicated on MGM’s DC-area proposal, authorized the Maryland state government to grant another casino license. MGM National Harbor was awarded the sixth, and final, casino license by the state in 2013.
Initially, the National Harbor project was projected to cost about $800 million. That put it in the ballpark of the other Maryland casinos, like Maryland Live! But as the project grew, the price tag nearly doubled. When all was said and done, MGM National Harbor cost almost three times as much as the Maryland Live! project.
A destination style casino
MGM National Harbor is trying to differentiate itself from the region’s other casinos by being a destination resort casino, a step up from the state’s five existing casinos:
- Maryland Live! Casino
- Rocky Gap Casino Resort
- Horseshoe Casino Baltimore
- Hollywood Casino Perryville
- Casino at Ocean Downs
Unlike the existing “regional” casinos, which bank on foot traffic from locals and travelers in surrounding states, MGM is hoping its location near the nation’s capital will bring visitors from all over the country and the globe. MGM National Harbor aims to be a Las Vegas-style destination casino (hence, the project’s Vegas-esque price tag).
Prior to the opening of MGM National Harbor, Maryland Live! was the state’s biggest and glitziest casino. Maryland Live! opened in 2012 at a cost of about $550 million. Not surprisingly, with MGM National Harbor growing in size, Maryland Live! announced a $200 million expansion project in 2016.
“This is not simply a casino,” MGM CEO Jim Murren told the Washington Post. “We don’t look at the casino business like we are in the slot machine and table business. We view ourselves in a business that cuts across many sectors: entertainment, retail, food and beverage, convention, hospitality.”
Boost for the local economy
MGM National Harbor is expected to be a boon economically. The resort will employ a permanent workforce of around 4,000 and generate $50 million in local tax revenue.
“It is entirely, economically speaking, a net positive for the county,” said Richard Clinch, the director of economic development at the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute in a Washington Post interview. “It will create lots of good jobs, reinforce tourism and strengthen the county’s economy.”
A look inside the casino
The resort has more than 300 hotel rooms, a 15,000-square-foot conservatory, a full spa and salon, and 70 pieces of artwork scattered throughout the resort’s common areas.
Restaurant options range from a coffee shop to upscale restaurants with celebrity chefs who are all the rage at Vegas casinos.
Eateries inside MGM National Harbor include:
- Fish By José Andrés
- Voltaggio Brothers Steak House
- Tap Sports Bar
- National Market
- Bellagio Patisserie
The resort also features a 3,000-seat theater, where entertainment will run the gamut from comedy to concerts, with headliners like Bruno Mars, Sting and Jim Gaffigan already scheduled to appear in the coming weeks and months.
The 125,000-square-foot casino floor boasts 3,300 slot machines, 124 table games, and a 39-table poker room.
Interestingly, while MGM National Harbor dwarfs its competitors in total size and scope, it won’t be able to lay claim to the most slot machines, table games, or even the largest poker room. That honor goes to Maryland Live!, which boasts 4,000 slot machines, 200 table games, and a 52-table poker room.