The Maryland poker scene was booming in August and the chance for a casino road trip was booked. Recently, Maryland announced multiple big tournament series worth more than $1 million in guaranteed prize pools. This included the Potomac Open and Maryland State Championships.
Poker in Maryland had come on my radar during covid. They were one of the first states in the northeast to reopen poker rooms. As a Northeast poker tournament player and casino regular I found myself traveling to Maryland more and more since the pandemic.
After learning that multiple tournament series would be running all around the same time period this summer, I knew that my next gambling road trip was being set in motion.
Origins of the Maryland poker scene
Heading south players can find four poker rooms in the state that include:
- MGM Casino – National Harbor
- Live! Maryland – Hanover
- Horseshoe – Baltimore
- Hollywood Casino – Perryville
With a few free days in my schedule I contacted a couple of my regular gambling buddies and planned out an agenda. My friends Chuck “The Tuna” Aquino, “Uncle” Joe Samero and Jeff “JB” Barton agreed to meet up with me during the road trip and hit some roadside adventures along the way.
The plan was to head south to National Harbor and then work our way back. I would hit four different casinos within three days. As always I mapped out the best route.
Poker and casino table games were legalized in 2012 in the Free State. The state has a rich background in gambling, and at one time had a booming casino industry in the 1940s. Maryland is proving to make a name for itself in the gaming world as online sports betting is now legal and they provide major casino brands in heavily populated areas in the state.
Maryland casinos generally offer poker, roulette, blackjack, slot machines, and sports betting.
With three free days ready to go, Chuck jumped on the first leg of the schedule with me and we decided to brand the adventure simply as the “Maryland State Casino Tour”.
Casino 1: MGM National Harbor
After hitting some traffic on the way down, we finally arrived at National Harbor and checked into a local hotel. As an avid casino player, I generally get comped rooms at most casinos, but MGM National Harbor is one of the tougher casinos to get comps. A tip for most players, there is a solid amount of affordable rooms located directly in National Harbor area.
After checking into our room, we headed over to the casino. MGM is on the outskirts of the National Harbor and is about a 15-minute walk from the hotels. The area is decent and I would recommend a walk on most nights. We were in a rush and decided to drive over so we could register for the 7 p.m. poker event during the Potomac Open.
This casino is large and for a Sunday night the place was packed. With over 2,200 slots on the floor, a 45-table poker room and a sportsbook lounge, this place is enormous. The poker tournament we entered was in the ballroom and we got our steps in trekking across the casino to reach our destination.
I unfortunately took two tough beats and was down $400 for the night. We have a rule on our trips and I recommend this for others, “No Bad Beat Stories Allowed.” Luckily Chuck The Tuna (pictured in Phillies hat) had a positive ending after just about gobbling all the fish at the tables. He made the final table and finished fourth to turn a nice profit for the day.
Another common denominator in our trips is food. We always look for the best places and we try to rely on the information we learn from talking to other players at the tables. Tonight’s recommendation came from a poker grinder we met. Jake Skolarus led us to the Food Court. Normally I would not think a food court would be the place to be, but the dining area is open late at night and offers multiple delicacies to pick from. Pizza, Sushi and BBQ were all available late into the night.
Other highlights of the facility includes:
- Free Parking
- Sports Book Lounge and Bar
- 48 Machine High Limit Slot area
National Harbor Highlights
The next day I woke up and took a jog around the National Harbor. This place is great for a weekend getaway and offers a lot of unique things to see and visit in the area besides just the casino. There are dozens of restaurants and bars, boat trips, ferris wheel rides and some unique art. The piece that caught my eye was called “The Awakening” by J. Seward Johnson Jr.
Casino 2: Live! Maryland (Hanover)
Located about 45 minutes north of National Harbor is Live! Maryland. This is connected to the Live! Casinos In Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. My players card came in handy from being a regular in Philadelphia and was able to get me a comped room.
Pro tip: make sure to bring a physical debit/credit card. The casino does not allow digital cards on your phone for check-in purposes. Also park near the hotel side of the casino when checking in because they are very strict about carrying large bags and coolers on the casino side of the floor.
Out of all the Live! Casinos I have visited, this is the largest. The gaming floor will stand out with over 4,000 slots and 200 table games. The poker room has two floors, with cash games running on the ground level and tournaments running above.
Some of the standouts of the poker room include:
- High Hand Promotions
- Daily Tournaments
- Bad Beat Jackpot
On today’s agenda I planned on playing event 18 of the Maryland State Poker Championships. This one-day tournament was listed as a $400 buy-in and came with a $20,000 guaranteed prize pool. I was able to pick up some good spots and build a sizable stack by dinner time. We were down to about 16 players when we broke for dinner. I met Chuck at “Luk Fu” located in the casino. Spicy Pad Thai was the move and possibly was one of the best pad thai I have had in a long time.
I discussed some light strategy with my gambling buddy and then headed back to the tournament. I continued to play solid and found myself down to the final five players. We decided to make an ICM chop. An ICM chop is where players decide to split the remaining prize pool depending on how many chips are in each player’s stack at the time of the decision. After calculating the payouts a deal was made. It was declared amongst the table that I would take down first-place trophy for my efforts.
I now was $4,300 richer and celebrated the best way I knew how, by going to the movies. Live! Maryland is connected to the Arundel Mills Outlet Mall. This mall has over 200 stores. My original plan was to celebrate by going to the Medieval Times located in the mall, but unfortunately this location was closed on Mondays. Next best choice was the Egyptian Cinemark. This was one of the most unique movie theaters I have ever been to, the entire place is built like an Egyptian pyramid and the decor is top notch. Tonight’s movie choice was a double feature of “Strays” followed up by the re-release of the class Korean horror film “Old Boy.”
Casino 3: Horseshoe Baltimore
After some rest, I woke up and traveled about 15 minutes to Horseshoe Baltimore. This was Day 3, and my busiest day yet. Chuck had to head home early to cover a work shift, so I was flying solo for part three. Horseshoe is a Caesars Entertainment property and has free parking.
The Horseshoe Baltimore opened in August of 2014. It became one of the more popular areas to play poker and casino games in the area. The area is also known for its close proximity to Camden Yards and The Inner Harbor. This tourist destination is located a short distance away but I would recommend driving to the harbor.
The poker room is one of my favorite rooms in the state. It has a spacious room that encompasses 23 tables. Its room decor includes multiple large photos of WSOP players and a large picture of Maryland’s own Greg Merson, the 2012 WSOP Main Event Winner. When entering the casino it is located to the far left and is next to the small sports betting area.
Today’s lunchtime agenda was slots and poker at the Horseshoe. Unfortunately both went poorly and ended up down $200 in poker and $200 in slots. Total loss: $400.
I did catch up with Mario Tee, the manager of the poker room and he was able to bring me up to speed about an exciting tournament series.
“I’m currently getting set up for the Run Good Series in September,” said Tee.
He showed me a sneak peak at the prizes for the event that include exclusive winner’s rings. The series runs from Sept. 5-10. Tee informed me that a few special guests for the opening night event, the ambassadors tournament would be in the building. One of them includes WSOP Main Event winner Greg “Fossilman” Raymer.
The series highlight will be a $1,100 Multi Flight Main Event. That tournament starts on Friday, Sept. 8, and has a $200,000 guarantee.
The full schedule is located here.
A quick stop at Perryville Railroad Museum
After leaving Horseshoe I headed north to Perryville. On my quests I always look for the unique and like to find new places along the way. When researching Perryville, multiple places listed the Perryville Railroad Museum as a little roadside destination. Railroads have been a part of my family, as my grandfather Anthony Cicali Sr. worked for Conrail for many years. So this pitstop seemed only natural for my wanderlust.
I made contact with Richard Hafer on the Perryville Railroad Facebook page and he agreed to give me a tour. This free museum is a small historical society that is dedicated to trains and local history. It is located in an active train station. Hafer is a retired Amtrak Railroader and may be one of the most knowledgeable men I have met in this industry. He has a passion and respect for the American rails and works hard at preserving the industry in his small corner of the museum.
The museum is open on weekends or by appointment only. The organization meets monthly and is more than willing to accept outsiders like myself with curiosities about railroads.
Casino 4: Hollywood Casino (Perryville)
For the last casino stop, special guest appearances were made by Jeff “JB” Barton and “Uncle” Joe Samero. The Hollywood casino in Perryville is only about a 1 hour, 20 minute drive from South Jersey.
Hollywood was the smallest casino on my journey but had the feel of a local after hours club. The casino holds over 800 slots, offers table games and includes a six-table poker room. The casino runs weekly poker tournaments for small buy-ins. We played the Tuesday night $100 event. With add-ons, the buy-in came to $145.
I would recommend getting there early if you want to get in the tournament, as they only allocate about two tables for the tournaments. For players that aren’t there on time, they will be waiting in a cash game or at the bar. I was one of those players. Luckily for me I jumped in a cash game and ended up hitting a high hand promotion. I turned quad 8s and won a casino bonus of $300 for my efforts. I also won $150 in that pot. My name was quickly called after that for the tournament and now it was a freeroll.
For such a small poker room it did shockingly have a large Pot Limit Omaha cash game running where the average stack was about $1,000 each. Not too bad for a Tuesday night.
We all made it down to the final nine of the event. I ended up in fifth place for about my money back, and Uncle Joe came in fourth for some extra cash in his pocket.
Hollywood daily tournaments occur weekly:
- $100 NLH – 7 p.m. Tuesdays
- $100 NLH Green Chip Bounty – 7 p.m. Thursdays
- $100 NLH Deepstack Tournament – 10 a.m. Fridays
- $200 NLH Black Chip Bounty- 2 p.m. Sundays
Overall it was another fun gambling road trip with friends and we are already planning our next tour. I met a lot of nice residents of Maryland who were open to discussing their local areas.
Besides battling a little bit of traffic, the trip was a success. I highly recommend the poker rooms and casinos and I look forward to coming back.
Photos courtesy of Anthony Cicali