Try Your Luck at These Nearby Casinos

A gambling newbie places her bets on adult playgrounds ranging from high style to old-school.

Gaming at MGM National Harbor. Courtesy photo

MGM National Harbor

Stepping onto the casino floor of this Prince George’s County resort, I instantly noticed the stark differences between it and the handful of other casinos I’d been to in the past. It’s bright, relaxed and the tables aren’t squished together. There’s plenty of energy, but it somehow feels less overwhelming and more manageable. This might just be the perfect casino for me.

“That’s our brand, creating an elevated experience,” confirms Alex Alvarado, vice president of table games and slots at MGM National Harbor. “This is fine dining in the world of gaming.”

He adds that they don’t bill the property as a casino, per se, but rather a resort that happens to have a casino.

Fish by José Andrés. Photo by Reema Desai

Still, there’s some serious play going on here. In the Asian gaming pit (so named for an array of table games popular in Asia), folks crowd around a few rousing games of baccarat. There are several styles of roulette here, too. (Who knew there was more than one?)

I, for one, appreciated the electronic tables, which allow beginners to try out certain games with lower stakes, away from onlookers and without the added stress of live dealers. These digital games feature a service light you can hit if you want someone to come over and explain the game (which is good to know since I thought that’s what you would hit if the machine was broken). Poker slot machines are another great way to learn without the pressure, Alvarado says.

To keep things fresh, MGM changes out some of its slot machines weekly, unlike other casinos that swap them out monthly or even annually. At the same time, MGM keeps a few one-armed bandits on hand for those who prefer the traditional slot-machine experience of pulling down the handle (new machines only require pressing a button). Altogether, MGM offers 3,100 slots, 158 table games and 46 poker tables.

The Presidential Suite. Courtesy photo

There are different areas for different types of gamblers, from pricey tables for high rollers to a low-stakes spot near a dance floor with a $15 a hand buy-in and a DJ on weekends. Upstairs, Hold ’em, Omaha and Seven Card Stud aficionados will find 40,000 square feet dedicated to poker tables and tournaments. The on-property theater hosts big-name performers such as Mariah Carey, Kem and Smokey Robinson, and also pop-culture tours like a live version of The Price Is Right.

Alvarado acknowledges that the intimidation factor is real, but he has some comforting assurances for newbies who find themselves standing on the sidelines: “If you walk up and want to buy in, any one of our dealers will teach you how to play, even if a game is in progress. They’ll correct you if you do something out of sequence. If you’re playing blackjack, they’ll give you advice. Even people at the table will be like, ‘You gotta hit that.’ ”

And with those encouraging words of advice, I felt like I might finally be ready to jump in and join a live table game—next time.

MGM National Harbor, 101 MGM National Harbor, Oxon Hill, Maryland; 844-646-6847;

Categories: Travel