Maryland Live Casino's opening night drew such a crowd that thousands didn't make it inside before the doors closed early Thursday morning, and traffic slowed to a crawl for miles on nearby highways.
State officials warned motorists to brace for delays in the coming days, both on site at the Arundel Mills complex in Hanover and on nearby roads, particularly Routes 100 and 295.
But the State Highway Administration said the short window that the casino opened to the public Wednesday into Thursday — 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. — intensified the gridlock. It now opens at 8 a.m. daily.
"Probably the single largest ongoing challenge is going to be traffic," Stephen Martino, director of the Maryland Lottery, said Thursday. "On the other hand, I wouldn't judge too much based on last night because last night's an aberration."
Mario Maesano, the casino's vice president of marketing, said that "well over 10,000 people" spent time (and money) inside the facility Wednesday night into Thursday, including about 2,000 VIPs invited in three hours before the official opening.
"Looking around the floor today, I think we've already exceeded that," he said around 4:15 p.m. Thursday.
All 1,500 of the casino's employees worked opening day, "and it will be all hands on deck for the next several days," Maesano said.
He didn't know how many people tried and failed to make it inside the casino. But the Maryland Lottery's Martino said the number of people too far back in line to get to the front before the 2 a.m. closing was "probably in the thousands." Casino staffers had to verify at the door that patrons were at least 21.
About 12:30 a.m., Martino said, he asked management to give a heads-up to people deep into the "huge mass of humanity" lined up outside that their odds of getting in weren't good.
"At midnight, we got a report that about 85 percent of the machines were in use at any given time," Martino said. "The industry will tell you that 50 percent is considered busy. So they were really cranking."
Casino officials said Thursday afternoon that they were still counting opening-night revenues and didn't have a tally yet. June figures as a whole will be announced in early July.
Two-thirds of the take will go to the state, earmarked for education spending, local impact grants and other uses. Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said the county's share of June revenue is expected to be about $500,000, with $15 million projected for the fiscal year beginning in July.
He was on hand Wednesday night and said the opening-night take "must have been enormous."
Delays started around 8 p.m. Wednesday and didn't clear up until about 1 a.m. Backups ran seven to eight miles on Route 295 northbound to the mall, said David Buck, a highway administration spokesman. Route 100 had three-mile backups.
"I think last night was a bit of an anomaly, but that doesn't mean the traffic is going to be any less heavy this weekend," Buck warned.
Traffic during the day Thursday wasn't significantly worse than usual, but the highway administration is planning for delays for at least the next week. Buck suggested that motorists who aren't headed to the casino or mall should take Routes 32 or 175 east-west and Interstate 95 north-south to avoid the area.
A new interchange expected to open Monday at Route 295 and Arundel Mills Boulevard should help, officials say.
John Bridges, who lives within walking distance of the casino in the Harmans Woods neighborhood, said he and his neighbors sure hope Wednesday's "nightmare" traffic proves unusual.
"Nobody wants to try to sell their house in an area where traffic is the worst for 30 miles," Bridges said.
The facility — with more than 3,100 slot machines plus 1,550 more to come — is the third and largest of Maryland's casinos. The others are Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County and the Casino at Ocean Downs on the Eastern Shore.