Industries Hotels/Tourism

A sure bet?

Resort will bring gambling to National Harbor

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MGM Resorts International is building the 300-room
resort and casino. Rendering courtesy Edelman

MGM Resorts International, owner of such luxury hotels as the Bellagio and Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip, knows a sure bet when it sees one. That’s why it’s putting money on the table to build a 300-room resort and casino at National Harbor in Maryland, just across the Potomac River from Old Town Alexandria.

“National Harbor is the most ideal site [for a resort] in the continental United States,” says Gordon Absher, MGM Resorts International’s vice president for public affairs. “We are confident that we can keep our hotel sold-out pretty consistently. At any given moment, we will have locals, hotel guests, tourists from D.C., and walk-ins from National Harbor.”

“It wasn’t love at first sight,” Absher admits, when his company first approached Prince George’s County about bringing gambling to the waterfront complex just east of the nation’s capital. The promise of 3,600 jobs and $40 million to $45 million in annual tax revenues, however, helped adjust people’s thinking. That and the amenities MGM promised to provide to a county that has lacked sophisticated shopping and entertainment options.

Milt Peterson, the Fairfax-based developer of National Harbor, had been courted by the gambling industry before, but he was never tempted. Down-market slots operations did “not fit our character as a family or a company,” he says.

But MGM was different. “Its properties are the best in the world,” says the developer. “It is the pick of the litter.”

In addition to the casino, the $925 million, MGM National Harbor will offer a spa, high-end retail, haute-cuisine restaurants and a 1,200-seat theater that will book A-list performers.

The 18-story, 1,600-foot-long hotel and casino will sit atop a pedestal in a monumental design meant to echo some of the famous landmarks in the capital. It will be built about a mile from the center of the 350-acre National Harbor. A shuttle service will connect the new resort to the 2,000-room Gaylord Hotel, Tanger Outlets, and the restaurants and shops in the village, where a 175-foot tall observation wheel was recently added to the attractions.

MGM hopes to break ground this summer with a completion date of summer 2016.

Patricia Washington, CEO of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, shared many people’s initial reservations about the arrival of gambling across the Potomac, but she’s had a change of heart. “It will be a boon to tourism. It will mean more people coming to our shared waterfront.”

A water taxi already runs from Alexandria’s OldTown to National Harbor and other popular tourist destinations across the river, including the National Mall, Georgetown and Nationals Baseball Stadium, so joint marketing is a symbiotic fit. “It is all about connectivity,” Washington says.

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