Photo courtesy of MGM National Harbor

My mother has always loved the noise, lights, sizzle and electricity of a casino. She especially loves the slots, and often strolls around until one “speaks to her.”

Me? Well, I’ve always preferred the exhilaration of ridiculously high and fast roller coasters that would turn most 45-year-olds green. I’d sooner travel to Branson, Missouri, to try out the latest adrenaline-pumper at Silver Dollar City than book a ticket to Las Vegas to fritter away precious money. (Did I mention I’m cheap? This is definitely a contributing factor to my casino aversion.)

So, it’s safe to say that taking on an assignment to write about casinos was a pretty big gamble. Would I ever be able to overcome my distaste for this loud, dark, maze-like experience that others seem to embrace so easily? Could I get over the intimidation factor of those unspoken rules shrouding the blackjack and craps tables?

Luckily, I have a healthy sense of adventure—and a mother who was all too eager to be my casino wingwoman. So off we went into the realm of roulette wheels and royal flushes. And while I won’t be jetting off to play roulette in Monte Carlo anytime soon, I could easily be persuaded to return to these two Maryland casinos.

Live! Casino & Hotel

Photo courtesy of Live! Casino & Hotel

This gambling mecca in Hanover near BWI Airport has a Costco next door and an outlet mall across the street—not that there’s anything wrong with that; it just looks an awful lot like Anytown, USA. The first taste of Live!’s magic, however, comes from its ability to make you feel like you’re on an instant vacation, far from the suburban sprawl just outside its doors. Check in, sign up for the rewards card that offers newbies $25 of free play money, drop your bags in the room and head out to explore.

Aside from the labyrinth of 4,000 slot machines, 50 poker tables and more than 200 table games like blackjack and roulette—some of which can be accessed with a mere $5 buy-in—you’ll see the entrance to an event center that hosts such acts as Gladys Knight and Grand Funk Railroad. There’s a smoking section of gaming that thankfully features one wall entirely open to fresh air. Bars are sprinkled throughout the space, and a Bobby’s Burger Palace satisfies when all your imbibing has brought on a case of the munchies.


This was my first casino visit for research purposes, and while I used my sign-up bonus for an hour of fun on the slots, I mostly wandered around drinking stiff gin and tonics and trying to muster the courage to sit down at a table. Those reasonably priced $5 tables were always packed. Maybe returning during an off-peak time, like a weekday, is a better way to dip a toe in? I later learned that Live! offers tutorials on some of the more popular table games. It also hosts a regular Ladies Poker Brunch that includes a poker tutorial from dealers.

Photo courtesy of Live! Casino & Hotel

If you go

Where to stay

The hotel attached to this casino recently earned a AAA Four Diamond Rating, and it’s easy to see why from the minute you step into the lobby. Its contemporary art collection includes everything from works by local artists to an Andy Warhol, and the second-floor spa level features guest room suites outfitted with private spa rooms and a fancy shower operated by a digital display on the wall.

Photo courtesy of Live! Casino & Hotel

Where to eat

The property features an outpost of The Prime Rib, where you should absolutely order a barrel-aged Manhattan, a heaping bowl of steamed clams in lobster broth and whatever cut of steak calls to you. For breakfast, head down to David’s for crab hash, classic eggs Benedict or a stack of pancakes.

Live! Casino & Hotel, 7002 Arundel Mills Circle, No. 7777, Hanover; 855-563-5483;