Thursday, at 11:00 pm, the new MGM National Harbor opened on the shore of the Potomac River in the D.C. suburb of Oxon, Hill Maryland.
MGMNH is the third casino to open in the Baltimore/Washington region (well, the 4th if you consider Charles Town), and was hyped for months as the "Gold Standard." Does it live up to its billing? I visited Friday and Saturday of opening weekend, and my initial impressions of the casino follow.
MGMHN opened its doors at 11:00 PM and, according to news reports, by 11:30, it was at capacity and turning visitors away. I was almost hesitant to visit opening weekend; however, I found myself in need of a few Starwood stays to re-up SPG Platinum, so I decided to spend the weekend at the nearby Westin and take my chances with the crowds. And so it was early Friday afternoon, and I was in the office trying to bill a few hours, when word broke on several message boards that the casino had no video poker machines on the floor. Like, none. Now, if you know me, you can likely imagine my horror at this news. I knew I was done being productive for the day and decided immediately to sneak out of the office to confirm this tragic news.
I got to the Westin around 2:30, checked in, and tried to grab an Uber for the 5 mile trip across the river to National Harbor. Two drivers, however, essentially refused to take me. Word of the traffic nightmare around the casino had apparently reached the Uber community. So I hailed a cab, and turned an $8 Uber trip into a $30 taxi ride. When we reached the Casino, the valet circle / taxi drop off was gridlocked. It took a solid 20 minutes to move through the line. I could have hopped out, but I felt bad leaving the driver stuck in the mess I had created for him. So, I stuck it out for ten minutes before eventually bailing and giving him an extra $10 tip for his trouble.
Once inside, it took me all of five minutes to locate an entire section of the casino floor dedicated to video poker. From single hand JOB, BP, DDB, Joker and Deuces Wild, to 10-hand Ultimate X to Spin Poker to 50 and 100-hand machines. MGMNH has a decent selection at relatively typical payouts for the area.
Given that I have the willpower of a crack addict when it comes to video poker, I sat down immediately before even taking a lap around the joint. I played a few hours on the hundred-hand machine and eventually hit the nuts:
It was perhaps 5:00 at this point, and I knew ThePokerMeister was seated in a $1/3 game in the adjacent poker room. Notwithstanding that we live like 5 miles apart, it had been probably a year since I had last seen him (totally my fault, by the way . . .); so I rolled over to say hello. After a few minutes of catching up, I headed out to finally take a lap around.
The casino was packed. The closest comparison was MGM Grand on New Years Eve. Only, more people; and less space. The casino floor was a bit smaller than I had expected. One big rectangle, with no space wasted. I was anticipating Aria; but it felt (and is) smaller. In fact, Maryland Live! feels much bigger. Slot machines were installed so close together that it was sometimes impossible to even pass between rows. While this may have been due in part to the shear volume of visitors, the floor is still far more dense than most casinos. In terms of variety, MGMNH has all the newest slots. Many also have USB Ports, so you can charge your phone while you play - a nice touch.
I counted one bar and two lounges on the casino floor. Felt Lounge looked particularly classy:
The lounges, however, were packed beyond the point of even trying to get a drink. If I wanted to grab a beer on the floor, I found myself basically limited to a single bar which, itself, was typically packed 3-deep. It took a solid 15 minutes to grab a $7 miller lite bottle. Yes; $7 for a lite beer. The same price was charged in the poker room (and, presumably, at the $100 black jack tables). While I understand Maryland law prohibits free drinks, the decision to gauge for booze still seems unjustifiable. Hopefully, MGM stock will hit the $40's and I can make up my beer costs on the back end...
Overall, the vibe of the Casino floor was cool. I would describe it as sort of a mix between Aria and Cosmo. Table limits were outrageous. Word was, there were one or two $25 black jack tables; but the cheapest I saw were $50's and $100's. And even those were 6/5. LOL as the kids say.
Outside the casino floor is the MGMNH Conservatory, the hotel lobby (and lobby bar), and "The District" -- a mall-like corridor that snakes around half the casino and contains shops, restaurants and the food court. There are lots of high end options, as well as some more casual places, like Tap (the same bar that exists at MGM Grand next to the poker room). Unfortunately, for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained, I was not allowed in any of the restaurants in the District (the best explanation I received was that they had run out of food the night before and, in order to ensure that it did not happen again, only guests with reservations were being allowed in). Even the bars were off limits to Pete Peters. This put a damper on the evening. Being left with the prospect of not eating, I opted for a burger at Shake Shack and then suffered from self-loathing the remainder of the night. Hopefully, access to the restaurants, including Voltaggio Brother's Steak House and Jose Andres Fish, will be much improved during my next visit.
After dinner, it was finally time to hit the poker room. The list was 80 long at 6:30, but the giant Bravo Board made it easy to track my spot on the list (word is that text messages will be available in the future once the opening crush fades). The room itself was nice. Not spectacular; not the vibe of, say, the room at the former Revel. Hell, I think the style of the room at the Horseshoe Baltimore might even be nicer. But the room was cool. And well-run, given the circumstances. There were certainly a few hiccups. Drink service was atrocious. Friday night, I waited an hour for a water that never came. And Saturday, I paid $7 up front for a miller lite, which came only after 45 minutes and two conversations with the waitress. And the 25 minute line to cash out at the cage (with one employee servicing players) was a bit beyond the pale. But, generally speaking, I really liked the room:
After a long session of $1/3 NL, I called it a night and retreated back across the river to the Westin.
I made it back to the casino around 2:30 Saturday afternoon, and decided to take a more extensive tour of the property before gambling. The casino was even more impressive in the daylight.
I find it's always somewhat hard to fairly review a new property in an initial visit. This was particularly true this time around, given the overwhelming crowds. Nevertheless, my initial thoughts on the MGMNH are as follows:
- MGMNH is a true destination resort. It's head-and-shoulders above Maryland Live! and The Horseshoe. I typically can spend a few hours at the latter joints before becoming bored. Not so at MGMNH. I can (and did) spend a full weekend. And I'm looking forward to doing the same again in 4 days. The property does, as promised, have that "Vegas feel." While the casino floor is smaller than many (most, perhaps) of the Vegas casinos, the resort as a whole, including restaurants, bars, shopping, theater and hotel, is expansive. It's big enough that you can stay occupied all day, between gambling, poker, drinks and dinners. This may be the first regional casino that actually eliminates my urges to drive 4 hours to Atlantic City.
- Unfortunately, it's not all fairies and unicorns. It appears MGMNH is screwing players with the comp system. At any MGM property in Vegas, $10 coin-in at video poker earns you a point ($5 on slot machines). A point gets you a certain amount of comps as well as progress along the MLIFE Tier Status. At MGMNH, however, the best I could tell, it was $20 coin-in per point. In other words, gambling at National Harbor earns you half the comps and tier credits you'd otherwise earn for the same play at a Vegas property. I'm not sure why MGM made this decision; and it's somewhat disappointing. Over the course of the weekend, I earned 1,688 points. 75,000 is needed to reach Gold; and 200,000 for Platinum. It does not seem feasible to reach these goals simply by grinding at National Harbor. But, I guess things could be worse. I suppose the points will at least help reach status, when combined with some trips to Vegas and money spent on filets and cabernets at MGM restaurants
- The transportation situation is currently a shit storm of epic proportions. The parking garage was apparently full at several points over the weekend. And the valet areas are simply gridlocked well into the early morning hours. I tried to Uber home both nights. The casino claims to have a designated Uber pick-up spot (much like at Aria and other Vegas properties). However, both nights, Uber drivers claimed either to be unaware of this spot or unable/unwilling to try and access it. Friday night, after a brief dispute, I had to meet my driver in the parking garage -- about a 20 minute walk from the designated Uber spot where I was waiting. And, Saturday night, I was never even able to locate my Uber driver. I was on the phone with him for 10 minutes, listening to him attempt, unsuccessfully, to describe his location, before my phone died (luckily, the slots have USB ports, as mentioned above!). Eventually, after having difficulty with a second Uber, I was able to hop in an empty cab and finally get home, albeit at a cost of $30. Frankly, at 4:00 am, the last thing I want is to battle 40 minutes to find a ride 5 miles back to the hotel. Hopefully, this situation will be improved in the coming weeks.
In sum - kudos the MGM on a job well done at National Harbor.