Last weekend was my birthday (29th), and so as plans developed, I thought I had found a way to include some of my favorite things to do all in one day: go to a Red Sox game, check out the new MGM Casino and Resort nearby, play a bit of blackjack, enjoy a good meal at a new restaurant, and share all with Ellen.
Well, it didn’t all work out, but most of it did.
The Sox were scheduled to play the Nats in DC as one of the final Spring Training games here. The Sox appear in this area maybe once every four or five years, and I had seats four rows behind the Sox dugout. I could see all my heroes and get good pictures too. Then, the game got rained out. Harumph.
So instead we just headed to Oxon, Hill, MD, 20-30 minutes from DC, earlier than we had planned, where MGM has built a major 23 acre resort at National Harbor. For those who know me beyond my MillersTime ‘published interests,’ you know I love to play blackjack. I’ve been known to spend time in Atlantic City and Las Vegas for that specific interest. But I had not yet been to the new casino close to home. When I read an outstanding review of one of the restaurants that had opened there, Fish by Jose Andres, I knew Ellen would be interested. Sadly, she’s not a gambler but has been known to accompany me on some of my trips, as long as there are other activities — good entertainment, good food, and a variety of spa services — available for her.
Early reports about the new MGM were positive, though we heard about large crowds, especially on weekends. But since it was now more than three months since it opened, it seemed a good time to check it out.
For me, it’s all about the gambling.
The good news is that the 125,000 square foot casino is a state of the art facility with the emphasis on slots (3,300), poker (39 tables with various types of poker), 10 crap tables, roulette wheels, and numerous blackjack and ‘close to blackjack type games.’ There is a special area for high stakes players. Over the seven hours (three on Friday and four on Saturday) that I sat at the blackjack tables, I found the other players knowledgeable and skilled at playing. There were only two players over that period of time who didn’t seem to know what they were doing and caused rolling eyes, some groans, and a few expletives from the other players. The dealers deal from an automatic shuffling machine that means play is continuous and if you want to count cards, you can’t really do that. The casino is open 24 hours a day.
The bad news is that the minimum bets are high. At blackjack, where I spent all of my gambling time, there were some $15 tables during the afternoon, but they were all increased to a minimum of $25 by early Friday evening. On Saturday, the tables were pushed to $25 by mid-day. That wasn’t the most serious negative. Usually, when you get blackjack (an ace and a picture card), the pay out is 3-2. However, at this MGM, the payout is 6-5, barely a reward for getting blackjack. If you want the 3-2 blackjack payout, you have to go to a $50 table. I don’t know the specifics, but I’m sure that moves the odds quite significantly in the house’s favor.
The 24 story hotel is also quite modern and convenient (upstairs from the casino) for those who want to stay overnight, rather than make a day trip. I think I heard there were only 308 rooms, not a large number for a casino and resort facility. And the prices were extremely high, at least for the weekend we were there. Unlike Vegas, however, the rooms and corridors are done in soft colors, and there is no jazzing things up to keep you out of the rooms and in the casino.
Food & Drink:
Lots of good choices, from Jose Andres’ Fish (reviewed by the Washington Post as the best seafood restaurant in the whole DC area) to Marcus Samuelsons’ more classic American restaurant and the Votaggio Brothers Steakhouse. There’s an Asian restaurant, Ginger, where dim sum is served every day from 11-3). We had a very good dinner at Fish, whose menu is not extensive, but the food is fresh and tasty. Whether it’s the best in the area, I leave that to those who know more than we about seafood in DC, where there are not many restaurants that specialize in seafood.
There’s an area called the National Market which is less fancy and where no reservations are necessary. We had some of the best crab cakes we’ve eaten in a long time at Pappas, but you can also get sushi, grab a Steak and Shake meal, find a slice of pizza, and other food to hold you over between gambling sessions. See Where to eat at MGM National Harbor for a review of all the restaurants.
There are numerous bars, both in the casino and in hotel, each with a specific theme, and there’s a Bellagio Patisserie (Ellen rated her Saturday morning almond croissant there ‘outstanding.’)
While there is an theater for evening concerts and the like, nothing was scheduled while we were there. Some ‘known’ entertainers were scheduled for the coming months. I didn’t know them, but Ellen did.
Ellen took advantage of the spa and salon and had high praise for those activities. She may have shopped a bit and stopped in at the Sarah Jessica Park boutique, but there were no extra packages to take home. (Tho now that I think about it, we did get two home deliveries of what looked suspiciously like shoes a couple days after we returned.)
Oh, and apparently there is an outdoor area, Potomac Plaza, where there are bocce courts and a beer pong table, and there’s a pool too.
This MGM is less of a resort and more of a day trip gambling opportunity with modern, definitely upscale facilities, good food, close to the metro DC area. If you don’t mind the high gambling minimums (and the 6-5 BJ odds), it’s a good place to spend a day, or even an expensive overnight. But it’s not a destination in the sense that Las Vegas is and Atlantic City was.
For those who are curious, I walked away from the blackjack tables with $125 of MGMs’ money. However, they got that and much more back with the room, the food, and the amenities. But there was no airfare or car rental fees.
Just what the doctor ordered for my birthday.