Massive $1.3 billion casino on track to open by end of year
By John Arundel
Once built, there will be no more cramped-leg, red-eye flights to Vegas, or harrowing road trips up I-95 in the middle of the night for table action at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
Sometime later this year, MGM Resorts International will cut the ribbon on its much-anticipated $1.3 billion MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino in Prince George’s County, just four miles from Alexandria. This stands to open up a world of nocturnal possibilities for lads looking to scratch that midnight itch to play Blackjack with their buddies, catch a heavyweight boxing match worthy of HBO, or feast on a culinary program led by several of the nation’s most renowned chefs.
In January, the casino reached a construction milestone when MGM executives topped off the 24-story concrete structure at National Harbor, Md. by placing a small tree at the highest point. The next day, MGM held a giant job fair – nearly 8,000 job seekers showed up – to fill nearly 3,600 positions for bellmen, front desk clerks, cocktail waitresses, blackjack dealers and other positions, for training that begins in May.
As Elvis crooned on loudspeakers and whipping winds drove a 30-degree chill over the small crowd of VIPs, public officials and construction foremen, MGM executives stood before the massive construction site and laid out plans for the project.
Several gaming experts are claiming that the new casino could attract as many as 25,000 people per day and throw off $250 million per year in profits, becoming – overnight – the most profitable casino in the United States.
“Today, we commemorate an important construction milestone for MGM National Harbor,” said MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren, “as our vision for building the finest luxury resort on the East Coast continues to come to fruition.”
That vision will encompass a “contemporary and progressive design” inspired by the historic area, including the national icons and natural landscapes of Maryland, Virginia and the District, he said.
Nothing about the one million square foot gaming complex comes in small portions.
MGM plans to build out a 125,000 square-foot gaming floor with 3,600 slot machines and 36 table games, 308 guestrooms and villas, a luxury spa, 25,000 square feet of meeting space, a 5,000 square foot parking garage, a 3,000-seat entertainment theater (for concerts, fights and shows), and 18,000 square feet of branded, high-end retail.
“When we began this journey, we set out to design a property that would rival any in our portfolio, bring great pride to Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland,” Murren said. “Looking at the project now, it is clear that we are well on our way to delivering on that vision.”
Dining stands to be top-notch, with 12 restaurants expected with culinary masters José Andrés, Marcus Samuelson and Bryan and Michael Voltaggio planning to open outposts at the new resort. “They’ll help make us a culinary destination in the DMV area,” vowed MGM National Harbor General Manager Bill Boasberg.
Nearly 2,000 workers from Whiting-Turner, Berlin Steel, Schuster Concrete and other construction firms are on site, often braving blustery winds, snow and cold rain to work in an almost frantic dash to get the huge project completed by Christmas.
After originally estimating the price tag at $800 million, MGM officials recently boosted their estimate of cost of construction to $1.3 billion. Murren attributed the $500 million spike to more elaborate interior design, as well as to redesigning the theater, moving more infrastructure underground, building it to LEED specification and doubling the number of specialty restaurants.
In December 2013, Maryland voters awarded MGM Resorts International the sixth license to operate a casino in Prince George’s County, and construction commenced in May, 2014. “We told the voters that if given the opportunity we would build something special along the banks of the Potomac,” Murren said. “The voters voted and we began our journey of 1000 miles.”
Lorenzo Creighton, the president and chief operating officer of MGM National Harbor, said the project is personal to him given that he attended law school at nearby Loyola of Maryland, before setting off on a gaming career which took him to Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada and Vancouver before “coming home.”
The former gambling regulator is a veteran of the gaming industry, having served as president and COO of the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and MGM Grand Detroit during a previous stint with the company. In 2005, Creighton was the first African-American to be named president of a major Las Vegas casino, the New York-New York.
At National Harbor, Creighton is bringing all of his skill sets as a regulator, casino executive and African-American to bear, navigating state and local regulatory issues and building bridges to Prince George’s predominantly African American community.
“We are grateful to the thousands of talented individuals—architects, construction workers, contractors and more—who’ve worked with great pride to make this amazing achievement happen so quickly,” Creighton said. “It’s a marvel to watch the incredible progress. Now, with the ‘topping off’ complete and winter setting in, work begins within the resort. We look forward to maintaining the momentum and unveiling the finished product later this year, Mother Nature permitting.”
That momentum is kept up by the more than 1,100 workers active on the massive construction site each day, building the resort to design specifications, originated by casino designer KNA Design and exterior architect HKS. Guest rooms are being designed by the hip hotel designer Studio GAIA.
Workers first excavated 550,000 cubic yards of earth from the site – enough to fill Ravens Stadium in Baltimore – before installing ten tower cranes on the site and installing 6,400 concrete foundation piles. Nearly 245,00 cubic yards of concrete has been poured, and over 10,000 structural steel pieces comprise the casino structure. The foundation was completed in May 2015 and the garage and casino podium was completed last month.
The casino and resort are being built to LEED Gold Certification standards, with a goal to achieve 28 percent improvement in energy efficiency over most buildings. For instance, the complex will have a 750,000 gallon rainwater capture cistern which will be used to provide water for all of the resort’s landscaping needs and to provide water for cooling needs and sanitation purposes.
“We will build green and we will build sustainably,” Creighton added. “We’re building to a gold standard. We will keep to that promise.”
Mindful of their neighbors, Creighton said MGM has awarded approximately 31 percent of contracts to minority business enterprises; and nearly 20 percent of total labor hours in 2015 were performed by Prince George’s County residents. MGM is also committing $1 million in contributions to worthy local non-profits.
“Diversity and inclusion are among some of our core values,” Creighton added. “We plan to be very proactive with our neighbors in PG County and Alexandria…We see this as a win-win situation for everyone, with lots of spillover effect for the surrounding communities.”
Murren agreed. “We’re building a one of a kind resort, and we are going to deliver it in an absolutely beautiful fashion.”