Meet Maryland Live! The Latest East Coast Casino

When the $500 million development is finished in October, it will have more slot machines than either the MGM Grand or Bellagio in Las Vegas. But gaming in the North East region, which includes Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Atlantic City, might be outgrowing its customer base.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. If you're a gambler, this is turning out to be a very good year. Plenty of people want your money. If you're a casino owner, competition is heating up. Almost a dozen states have casinos that have opened this year, most on the East Coast. And one of the newest is a $500 million development called Maryland Live! - exclamation point. To thrive in a crowded marketplace, Maryland Live! hopes to draw in younger gamblers. NPR's Lauren Silverman reports.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: Maryland Live! Casino is located next to one of the biggest shopping malls in the state, and the line of people waiting to step foot inside trails all the way into the Burlington Coat Factory next door. A circus man spinning plates winds through the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Here we go now, my big finish...

SILVERMAN: The young woman he's talking to is Jade Daniels. It's her second time here at the casino. Daniels used to drive hours to gamble - to Charles Town, West Virginia; even Atlantic City, New Jersey. Now her commute is 20 minutes.

JADE DANIELS: This is just like a hop, skip and a jump, and you're right there.

SILVERMAN: There are now five casinos in Maryland and plenty of slot machines. By October, Maryland Live! will have 5,000 slots. That's about what the MGM Grand and Bellagio have combined. But Jade Daniels will still have to drive to other states if she wants to play table games. Maryland law doesn't allow live dealers. And it's manned table games that tend to attract the younger crowd.

Over at Maryland Live's main bar, another young gambler named Josh Gover is enjoying his drink, but he's lukewarm on the gambling options.

JOSH GOVER: I'm a table game kind of person. I like Texas Hold 'Em. That's what I play, so that's the only thing about this place, it don't have tables.

SILVERMAN: So if it got tables, would that change things a little bit?

GOVER: I'd be here more.

ROBERT NORTON: We made it an effort to set up the electronic table games here in a way that simulates a real table games pit environment.

SILVERMAN: That's Robert Norton, Maryland Live's general manager. He's trying to pull in young gamblers with virtual table games. But you can tell he's anxious to see real dealers tossing out the cards. To make up for it, he's packed the place with the newest slots. The Hangover and Sex and the City-themed machines line the walls, but...

VIN NARAYANAN: There's no substitute for the table games.

SILVERMAN: That's Vin Narayanan. He's editor for Casino City, which covers the gaming industry. Even though e-tables won't bring in as many young people as the real deal, Narayanan says they're a good place for gamblers to learn the ropes, and eventually they might become loyal customers.

NARAYANAN: When you go to the blackjack table or you go to a craps table for the first time, you don't necessarily know what you're doing, and that's not a comfortable place to be when you're putting money on the line. But if you can practice the game online, when you go into the brick and mortar casino, when you go to the land-based casino, it's real easy.

SILVERMAN: And novices who are self-conscious about even playing on an e-table at the casino can also connect with Maryland Live! from the couch. The casino has set itself apart with its online play-for-fun feature. No money exchanges hands, but Vin Narayanan says the database is valuable for the casino.

NARAYANAN: That's a big part of the strategy, is all right, how do we acquire young customers? Well, we'll put these games online, we'll get them to play, and then maybe we can give them some enticements, some bonuses to come in and play and they'll come to a land-based casino.

SILVERMAN: Then you just have to keep them coming back. Outside, still waiting to enter Maryland Live!, Jade Daniels isn't exactly reassuring.

DANIELS: You're going to wear it out, unfortunately. Probably by the time September rolls around we'll be done.

SILVERMAN: To make things even harder for Maryland Live!, this month a state panel said Maryland's economy could support a sixth casino. That would mean yet another option for Jade Daniels.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Let's spin the wheel.

SILVERMAN: Lauren Silverman, NPR News.

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