BERLIN — Starting Friday morning at 8, the Casino at Ocean Downs will remain open 24 hours a day until Monday, Sept. 30 at 4 a.m.
The Casino at Ocean Downs last week gained approval from the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency for its new hours of operation. Maryland voters in November approved through a referendum a gaming bill that, among other things, allows casinos in the state to operate 24 hours a day if they chose. The Casino at Ocean Downs earlier this year applied to the state gaming agency for a 24/7 operation and the application was approved.
Other casinos already operating in Maryland, including Maryland Live in Anne Arundel County, are already open 24 hours a day, but because of the seasonal nature of the resort area, the Berlin casino has only operated on a 24-hour basis on weekends thus far. However, in an attempt to take advantage of the summer season, the Casino at Ocean Downs applied for and received permission to operate 24 hours a day through the end of September.
As a result, the Berlin casino will open at 8 a.m. on Friday, May 17 and will remain open around the clock until 4 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 30.
After that, the Casino at Ocean Downs will return to an off-season schedule. Beginning Sept. 30, the Ocean Downs casino will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Monday through Thursday and will resume 24-hour operations from Friday to 4 a.m. on Monday mornings, General Manager Joe Cavilla said this week.
In another significant change expected to take place this summer, the Casino at Ocean Downs will be allowed to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. each day after the Maryland General Assembly passed compromise legislation during the 2013 session that also included an earlier sunset provision on the requirement for restaurants and bars in Worcester County to purchase liquor exclusively from the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC).
In March, feathers were ruffled when it was learned an amendment could be attached to a bill in the General Assembly addressing other issues related to Worcester County’s liquor laws that would have allowed the Casino at Ocean Downs to serve alcohol 24 hours a day.
The proposed change rankled the liquor license holders in Worcester, most of which are concentrated in and around Ocean City, because of the perception it would create an uneven playing field for the bars and restaurants that would still be held to the firm 2 a.m. closing time.
As a result, the license holders pushed for a concession on their behalf in the form of an earlier disconnect date from the county’s DLC wholesale operation. As part of the legislation that dissolved the old Liquor Control Board (LCB) and created the county-run DLC, the licensees were required to continue to purchase wholesale liquor from the county until July 1, 2016, at which point they would be able to opt out and purchase spirits on the open market if they so desired.
When the dust settled, the amendment was changed to allow the Casino at Ocean Downs to continue to serve alcohol until 4 a.m., not 24 hours as they originally hoped for, and the sunset date for the license holders to opt out of the DLC and test the wholesale open market was moved to July 1, 2014.
The legislation created a new class of liquor license in Worcester County exclusive to the Casino at Ocean Downs, allowing the facility to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. However, the earliest the extended hours for liquor sales at the casino could take effect is July 1, pending the issuance of the new class of license by the county, according to Cavilla.