We just completed our fourth “Poker Night in America” television shoot, this time at Maryland Live Casino. It’s located about halfway between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD.
Although I spent 12 years in the area — this was a new experience for me. Back when I lived here, more than a decade ago, there were no legal casinos. There were no public poker rooms. Every poker player who lived in the National Capitol area was forced to commute up to Atlantic City (three hours away), usually on weekends.
Well, times have changed.
Consider this. In terms of sheer volume (overall number of games per week), Maryland Live Casino is now the second-busiest poker room in North America. The Commerce Casino in Los Angeles is still the biggest, by far. Maryland’s position is impressive, especially for a poker room that’s been open for less than a year.
Of course, Maryland Live Casino has a lock on all the poker action stretching all the way from Northern Virginia (a sprawling urban area), the District, Mongomery County, Prince George’s County, then all of Baltimore City and the suburbs, all the way up to near the Delaware border. That’s about 6-7 million people within a two-hour drive. The casino is jammed, especially on weekends.
So, the casino is in a perfect location. It’s also surrounded by a huge shopping complex, including many outlet stores. That’s all mushroomed into restaurants, movie theaters, and other forms of dining and entertainment. As one can imagine, this is an area with plenty to do — and that doesn’t even include Washington and Baltimore.
Within the next few years, Maryland Live Casino will get some heavy competition. Caesars Entertainment is opening a casino in Downtown Baltimore, near the stadiums where the (NFL) Ravens and (MLB) Orioles play their home games. It will be called the Horseshoe. I suspect they might get a few customers. Then, in about two years, the MGM will be building a casino that will dominate the Washington, D.C. area, right across the Potomac River from Alexandria, VA. That’s going to be a monster. But at least for now, Maryland Live Casino is the only game in town.
This was the first shooting location of the year 2014 for “Poker Night in America.” Towards the end of 2013, we filmed three events — at Turning Stone (New York), Peppermill (Reno), and Rivers (Pittsburgh). So, with the Maryland event added to the mix, we’ve had a lot of poker, and even more fun — most of it unplanned and unexpected. That’s the idea of our television show. Everything’s unscripted.
This time, we invited the following poker pros: Tom Schneider, Gavin Smith, Jason Somerville, Danielle Andersen, Matt Glantz, David “ODB” Baker, Christian Harder, Tony Gregg, Scott Baumstein, and Greg Merson (the 2012 world poker champion). We also invited poker personalities Steve Dannenmann and Darvin Moon — both from Maryland.
We also accepted six lesser-known players from our open “casting call.” This was designed to allow amateur players and those who play mostly in cash games the chance to get on television, which has long been overlooked within the poker scene. Most television coverage focuses on tournaments or very high-stakes cash games where the average poker player has little chance to compete. The “casting call” participants included Avi Rubin (see separate story HERE), Robert Daniels, Gene Dru, Tom X. Wang, Chad Powers, and two others (they came in via the poker room).
The local CBS affiliate in Baltimore did a feature on “Poker Night in America,” which can be seen here. I was interviewed in the segment. Ooops, I forgot to wear a suit and tie.
We all stayed at the A-Loft Hotel, right across the street from the casino. The hotel is quite unusual. As the name suggests, the rooms are lofts. The lobby has a pool table and looks more like a living room. There’s also a huge bar, with lots of televisions. This made for a convenient place to watch the college basketball games (“March Madness” is going on right now).
Just about everyone seemed to enjoy the experience — both at the table and away from it. There was also some controversy between a few of the players, which came up afterward. I’ll let them fight that one out on their own and say no more.
Since I don’t sit in the games and play, I’ve become more fond of the behind-the-scenes things that go on when poker players hang out. I’ll just leave it at that. We don’t want to ruin too many surprises that will come up on the new show. By the way, the show dates should be announced very soon.
Most readers already know I paid a lengthy visit to the National Security Agency on this trip. I also checked out some great restaurants. I also met some old friends and new ones, as well. It was nice to see Mike Smith again. He’s the Poker Room Manager at Maryland Live Casino. He does a great job managing a huge operation. I also met Carmen Gonzalez for the first time, who heads public relations at the casino. She’s great at her job and generated a lot of interest and coverage. Here are a few samples of the coverage:
It wasn’t all work. Okay, none of it was work — at least if you love what you’re doing, as I do. I got to hang out with our incredible “Poker Night in America” staff, which is largely based out of Fargo, North Dakota. One of these days, I’ll do a write-up on some of these great people I’ve met. They’ve taught me a lot of things, not just about poker and television, but about life and how to live it. They’ve also become great friends.
Finally, as I now depart, I look back upon three of the finest people I know who I got to hang out with during the off days. Last week, I enjoyed a great “dinner” with a Baltimore Sun/Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who is one of the most knowledgeable gaming minds on the East Coast. He knows more about the business side of casinos than anyone I know. His name is Bill Ordine. You will be meeting him soon in an upcoming “Facing the Firing Squad.”
Another old friend I saw was Bill Curley, from the Public Relations company that represents Caesars Entertainment. Curley worked the WSOP for several years and is a familiar name and face to many poker insiders (mostly known as “the bastard”). Like I said –me, Curley, and Ordine went to dinner at 6 pm, which lasted until 2 am when the last open bar in Downtown Baltimore threw us out the door. Eight-hour dinner. It was epic.
The trip was capped off by a power lunch with Vin Narayanan, from Casino City Times. He’s a fomer USA Today writer who lives on Capitol Hill, in the District. Vin told me he’s starting his third podcast and will have President Obama on as a guest. That’s sometime in 2016. Otherwise, his career is in the shitter.
I have to wrap this up now. I’m sitting here at the Baltimore-Washington Airpot. Southwest Airlines just called the A group and I have……
Oh, fuck it, bye.