MGM Opens its $1.4 billion ‘Vegas on the Potomac’

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MGM executives opened their $1.4 billion resort and casino at National Harbor yesterday with a warning to prospective visitors issued via video at a press conference: “We are not in the hotel business. We are in the holy sh*t business.”

VIP guests got to see exactly what they mean as they toured MGM National Harbor, which the company has dubbed “Vegas on the Potomac” and “the first luxury gaming resort in the Capital region.” Besides a 125,000-square-foot casino, it includes a 3,000-seat theater, shops, restaurants run by celebrity chefs and a 308-room hotel with a two-story spa and salon, a ballroom and 50,000 square feet of meeting space. Nightly room rates for the hotel start at $299.

Actress and designer Sarah Jessica Parker dropped in to open her first brick-and-mortar boutique, called SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker. Marylander Bryan Voltaggio oversaw final preparations for his first culinary collaboration with his brother Michael, a restaurant called Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse.

Chef Brian Voltaggio looks in on his new restaurant at the National Harbor casino.

Signs and posters touted the performers coming to the theater, including Bruno Mars, Boyz II Men, Lionel Ritchie, Duran Duran, Ricky Martin, Sting and Cher. Well-known artists such as Alice Aycock and 93-year-old John Safer unveiled works that are now part of the MGM National Harbor “Heritage Collection.”

The casino has 3,300 slot machines, more than 125 table games — blackjack, roulette and craps included — a 39-table Poker Room, a luxury high-limit gaming room, an Asian “gaming pit” with Macau-style Baccarat tables and 25 variations of carnival games.

Three of the casino’s 3,300-or-so slot machines.

But MGM National Harbor is as much of a retail center as it is a casino, with upscale stores and restaurants featuring views of the Potomac. It created 6,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs. It’s expected to draw an average of 20,000 people a day.

Elected officials from Maryland were prominent throughout the midday ceremony, beaming like they had already won the jackpot.

Gov. Larry Hogan said the resort is “simply amazing” and predicted it will have “a transformative effect” on the region. “It will be a tremendous benefit to Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland,” he said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at opening day for the new casino and resort.

Maryland Senate President Mike Miller recalled when the land was the Smoot Sand and Gravel pit and celebrated the new attraction that has taken its place. “We are so very grateful for these jobs,” Miller said. “It’s a blessing to Prince George’s County. It’s a blessing to the State of Maryland. It’s a blessing to the United States of America.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III said it will attract others to the county.

“This facility is a watershed mark for us,” he said. “Not just the southern part of the county, but all throughout the county. Because the message it sends to businesses is that this really is the place to be…This is the place to come.”

Jim Murren, chairman and chief executive officer of MGM Resorts International, said in his presentation that he has strong ties to Maryland because his wife is from Baltimore. They were married at Saints Philip and James Catholic Church in Charles Village, and his mother-in-law is a retired teacher who still lives in Baltimore, he said.

“I love this state,” said Murren. “I love the Eastern Shore. I love the history of this area.”

Murren said he and other MGM executives decided the site at National Harbor was so good that the company should spend more than the $800 million or so they originally planned for “convenience gaming” and go on to build an “international destination,” capitalizing on the proximity to the nation’s capital and three nearby airports.

“A lot of folks have said to me, ‘we’re tired of leaving the county to do fun stuff,’” he said.

Murren said the design team, led by HKS, was hired to create a place that was not like anything in Las Vegas or Washington, D. C. but “something uniquely for this state.”

He said MGM knows that Prince George’s County has a lot of boxing fans and will “bring back boxing” to the county. Women had requested that the hotel salon not be put in the basement, he said, so it’s in a prominent spot where guests can get a “mani-pedi overlooking the Potomac.”

The front of the new casino and resort.

MGM wanted to bring the Voltaggio brothers together in one restaurant to “do something fantastic,” he noted. He said that the company also searched far and wide for the restaurant with the best crabs and crab cakes, which led them to bring in Pappas Restaurant from Parkville.

Two-thirds of the resort’s employees are minorities, according to Murren. He closed by giving a mini-lecture about the gaming industry, saying it employs 1.8 million Americans, more than the steel industry.

“It’s a pathway to the middle class, providing great benefits” for employees, he said.

Murren said MGM National Harbor offers at least 300 different positions to jobseekers, from entry-level roles to highly specialized positions. “We are a big, important industry, and our jobs are every bit as patriotic as any other jobs,” he said.

And now that the doors are open, officials say they will never close.

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.
Ed Gunts


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