- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2016

Maryland’s sixth and newest casino opened Thursday night to a capacity crowd — and has been filled to capacity since then.

Within 12 hours of opening, more than 50,000 people had streamed through the massive MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino and passed its glittery array of 3,300 flashing slot machines, walked around its one-of-a-kind sculptures stretching up to a glass roof and strolled out onto an expansive terrace offering a chilly panorama of the Potomac River.

“It’s like you’re actually in Vegas. You get that,” said Shawn Tith, a poker player from Springfield, Virginia, wandering the atrium of the 125,000-square-foot casino. “Just look at the stuff around you.”

Mr. Tith visited the resort late Friday morning, when crowds had waned only a bit. MGM had to turn away thousands of customers after the resort reached capacity less than an hour after opening its doors Thursday night.

Twitter snapshots of the Capital Beltway, Oxon Hill Road and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic abounded Thursday night.

Friday morning’s “lull” gave way to another crush of patrons that afternoon. By 3:30 p.m. the resort had released a statement asking some guests to postpone their visits.

“Due to an overwhelming response after our successful Thursday grand opening, the MGM National Harbor casino floor again reached capacity during the day on Friday,” MGM officials said. “[Guests] without reservations for tonight or this weekend are encouraged to consider making plans to visit the new resort another time, after grand opening weekend.”

As late as Saturday night, the Prince George’s County government Twitter account dedicated to National Harbor said that all incoming visitors should just turn back.

“#MGMNationalHarbor continues to be at full capacity. No additional guests are able to enter the resort at this time,” the account tweeted around 11 p.m. Saturday.

Curtis Hurte and his wife, Dionne, drove more than three hours from a small town in southern Virginia to take in the $1.4 billion resort and casino.

“I wanted to come see how grand it was. It’s blowing my mind right now. When we walked inside, I thought I was in Vegas,” Mr. Hurte said, staring up at a massive sculpture towering up to the vaulted glass ceiling.

“We didn’t think we were in Maryland,” Mrs. Hurte chimed in.

The Hurtes said they had little interest in gambling but were excited to come back soon and visit one of the several restaurants or see a show at the resort’s theater.

“I’d come out here just for dinner, to look at the scenery,” Mr. Hurte said.

Amenities for nongamblers are plentiful, not the least of which being a 12-foot chocolate fountain in the center of Bellagio, a European-style pastry shop. The resort includes restaurants operated by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, as well as local culinary masters Jose Andres and the Voltaggio brothers. It also features a 3,000-seat theater that will see Boyz II Men as its inaugural act.

Besides the casino, the MGM resort — which started receiving guests Saturday — offers a 300-room boutique hotel, a conference center, art galleries and a flower conservatory. Nightly room rates are set from $399 to $599.

“You don’t even have to step foot inside the casino to enjoy the resort,” said an MGM spokeswoman. “You have to remember, we’re an entertainment company more than we’re a gaming company.”

Adding to the glamour, actress Sarah Jessica Parker opened her first SPJ boutique at the casino, displaying shoes and handbags that cost upwards of $700. Miss Parker showed up Thursday to the VIP opening flanked by — not Hollywood glitterati — Washington politerati, namely, former House Speaker John A. Boehner, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and CNN host Wolf Blitzer.

For some, the opening of MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill is as much about what the resort can do for Prince George’s County as it is as about dazzling customers.

County Executive Rushern Baker III called the project a “watershed” for the county. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the new resort and casino would be transformative for the region.

“It is exciting to see a respected, world-renowned brand like MGM make such a significant investment in the future of Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland,” Mr. Hogan said. “MGM National Harbor will have a tremendous economic impact on this region, and our administration has been proud to fully support this important project.”

According to MGM National Harbor, about 6,300 people worked on the resort and casino since the groundbreaking, and about 2,500 people have been employed at the site each day. The resort and casino has created 3,600 permanent jobs, at least half of which, MGM said, were filled by local residents.

And while the weekend provided a rush of excitement for many of the tens of thousands of patrons who trekked to MGM National Harbor for a first taste of the attractions, it didn’t go off without a few hiccups.

A fight broke out Thursday night, MGM officials said, when a man made unwanted advances on a woman and her two male friends stepped in. The fight was broken up quickly, with one man being treated for cuts on his face.

“Anytime you get a lot of people together, there is a possibility you are going to run into some problems,” said MGM Resorts spokesman Gordon Absher.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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