NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The clock was just minutes away from midnight on Thursday when Shanelle Rainey strolled into the brand-new MGM National Harbor
with wide eyes and a beaming smile. She worked her way through the main entrance that was bottle-necked with thousands of other excited guests and held her iPhone up high as she videoed her maiden voyage to the stunning $1.4 billion resort that sits on the banks of the Potomac River.
It didn't matter that Rainey lives nearly an hour away in Woodbridge, Virginia, and was due at her job as a postal worker is less than eight hours. There was no way she was not
going to be here on opening night.
"Oh, I may not even get to sleep tonight, but I don't care," Rainey said with a hearty laugh. "It's been a long time coming, so I had to be here. This is amazing. Look around. It's beautiful. I go to Vegas and Atlantic City all the time, but now we have this right in our backyard. I'm going to be here every week. This is incredible."
Rainey was far from alone in her sentiments. Following a black-tie and gown VIP Party of about 5,000 guests earlier in the evening, MGM National Harbor
officially opened its doors just after 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, about 30 minutes earlier than previously scheduled. Within an hour, nearly every seat at the 126 table games and 3,300 slot machines inside the 125,000 square foot casino was filled. Same goes for the 39-table poker room and the selection of more than 15 restaurants, bars and lounges.
By 11:15 p.m., casino officials had to stop allowing people in, but the masses didn't go home. They continued to line up and wait outside the doors in 20-degree wind chill conditions, just to get the chance to be here for the grand opening, even if they had to wait for another wave of people to exit the building.
MGM promised that its newest property, located on a 23-acre parcel of land about 10 miles south of the White House, would bring a "taste of Vegas to the nation's capital" and it turns out that statement is much more than just a clever marketing message. It happens to be completely accurate.
If you scooped up MGM National Harbor and dropped it onto the Las Vegas Strip, it would fit in quite nicely with other MGM Resort International properties such as Bellagio
, Aria Resort & Casino
at CityCenter and MGM Grand. Like those other iconic resorts, MGM National Harbor blows you away with its elegance, unique attributes and attention to detail.
It starts in the 15,000 square foot conservatory below the main lobby that was created by acclaimed designer Ed Libby and will change with each season. The current "Holiday Reflections" theme features 60-foot Christmas trees and 70,000 blossom flowers, white carnations, orchids and poinsettias, similar to the renowned Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Las Vegas.
Next to the conservatory is the 3,000-seat theater that will be broken in with big-name musical acts that have made Las Vegas a regular stop, such as Lionel Richie (22 December), Bruno Mars (27 December) and a string of shows by Cher in March, among others.
Down the hall from the theater is an upscale retail district that got plenty of foot traffic earlier in the day during a media event when "Sex in the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker was on hand to oversee the opening of her clothes, shoes and accessories boutique.
The casino is the second-largest in the MGM family (MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas
is the biggest at 171,000 square feet) and offers state-of-the-art amenities such as adjustable chairs and slot machines with USB ports. On the casino floor are two luxury lounges — Blossom and Felt — and at the very end of the building guests can get outside and enjoy staggering views of the Washington Monument, National Mall, U.S. Capitol, Potomac River, National Harbor and Old Town Alexandria on the Potomac Plaza.
The vast area has water fountains, fire pits and al fresco dining tables for two of the property's signature restaurants: Tap sports bar and the aptly named Fish, local chef José Andrés' first MGM seafood venue.
The 125,000 square-foot casino floor at MGM National Harbor has 3,300 slot machines and 126 table games. (photo by Robb Scharetg)
And expect to hear more hubbub from the F&B sector of the property in a few weeks when Bellagio Patisserie unveils a two-ton, floor-to-ceiling chocolate fountain that will gush with 4,000 pounds of milk, dark and white chocolate.
The 308-room, 24-story hotel with nightly rates starting at $299 is angled so it takes advantage of the spectacular views of the Potomac, and also includes an outdoor pool, a two-level 27,000-square-foot Spa & Salon with 11 treatment rooms, full service salon, barber shop, couples' suites and Vichy room.
But despite all of these lavish amenities, MGM officials seem to be most proud of the impact on the community MGM National Harbor will have. In addition to the 6,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs it created, MGM officials boasted at Thursday morning's press conference that close to 50% of the casino employees are Prince George's County residents and the company will spend between $60 million to $80 million a year acquiring items for casino operations.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, whose state is now home to six casinos, attended the press conference, calling the property "absolutely impressive" and adding that it would have "a transformational impact on this region."
Added MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren: "We've had a lot of conversations with the men and women who now work here over the last few months. You can see the joy on their faces. Many of them used to drive an hour and half each way to do the job they love to do, and now they can spend more time at home, and with friends and family.
"We provided them an opportunity to be in their own city and the state they love. We've given them the gift of time. That's the legacy of this property. That's the real magic. This resort is beautiful; we spent a lot of money. We made promises to the country and we made promises to the state and we kept our promises. That's what we do at MGM. We keep promises."