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MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren On The $1.4B MGM National Harbor


Since Maryland legalized gambling eight years ago, five casinos have transformed the state’s entertainment landscape and added $1B to the state’s education coffers. A sixth casino, the $1.4B MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County, promises to take the state’s gaming industry to a new level.

The MGM National Harbor in suburban Maryland opened in late 2016.

The splashy Vegas-style resort opens tonight at 11pm after an opening bash (check Bisnow DC for coverage tomorrow), with 15 eateries and a 24-story hotel that offers views of the Potomac River and DC monuments.

MGM is gambling on celebrity chefs, headliners like Cher and Sting at its 3,000-seat theater, and actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s first retail boutique, SJP, to lure guests. The casino holds 3,300 slot machines, 39 poker tables and 124 table games. A flower-filled atrium and 12-foot-tall chocolate fountain at Bellagio Patisserie are modeled on another MGM resort, the Bellagio in Vegas.


MGM National Harbor is also the first LEED Gold-certified casino in the region and the one of six casinos in the world to receive the certification by the US Green Building Council. LED lighting and water-saving fixtures are among the sustainable features at the 308-room resort. MGM execs say they spent $10M on transportation improvements to ease congestion, including adding five entrances and exits and widening nearby intersections. The resort employs 4,000 people, sourcing more than 40% of its workers from Prince George's County.

Other features of the resort include:

  • A 27k SF spa and salon with 11 treatment rooms
  • Restaurants, including FISH by DC’s Jose Andres; Marcus from Marcus Samuelsson; and the first collaboration between Frederick natives Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse
  • A food market with 10 eateries, serving everything from banh mi to pizza and burgers. It also contains Pappas Crabcakes, a favorite among Marylanders.
  • A permanent art collection from a variety of artists, including legendary folk singer Bob Dylan
  • 50k SF of meeting space, two ballrooms, three meeting rooms and a 6k SF terrace.

We chatted with MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren, 54, about his expectations for the attraction and how retail and entertainment boost the bottom line for the company.

Bisnow: I see that non-casino revenue has been on the rise. How did that influence MGM National Harbor’s makeup?

Jim: It’s our differentiator in this space as we cut across so many different sectors—retail, live entertainment, convention space, restaurants. Maryland has had gaming between horse racing and slots and table games, but what we’re providing is a very different experience. We believe that bringing Bruno Mars and Lionel Richie [to the MGM Theater, opening Dec. 15] and the relationships we have in the entertainment industry is second to none. We intend to use that to drive incremental visits.


Bisnow: How did you get interested in sustainability?

Jim: I was an urban studies major in college. I was fascinated with the origins of cities and how they’ve evolved over centuries and how Vegas was created. I learned how to develop and operate in a sustainable way. We realized we wanted to have as minimal an impact on the construction site.

Bisnow: The casino has been in the planning stages for several years now. How does it feel to finally be open?

Jim: I’m incredibly excited and humbled. It would have been a bad day if we hadn’t [won the bid], as my wife, Heather, grew up in Timonium. Her mom is a school teacher in Baltimore County. She went to Bryn Mawr. We got married in Baltimore 26 years ago. I’ve been going to Maryland for 30 years.


Bisnow: What will be most distinctive about this property compared with others?

Jim: There’s nothing like it that exists in the East Coast, let alone in Maryland. It’s reflective of how we look at development. I take a lot of time learning about the cultural heritage of the community that becomes the early design inspiration of the resort we develop. The inspirations were to celebrate the African-American heritage, the Mid-Atlantic area, and the beauty and the dignity of the national monuments. The spaces will be exuberant and approachable and very energetic and dignified. We’re going to get international tourists. We’re in proximity to three airports, which will drive more international traffic there.


Bisnow: What will make the resort a success in your eyes?

Jim: It has to be financially successful, which I have no doubt it will be; a must-see destination nationally and internationally. When people go to MGM National Harbor and see the beauty of this resort and how connected we are to the community, that we’re providing the community with great jobs, it will be a very visible manifestation of what my company and industry stands for.

Bisnow: How did MGM choose the food options?

Jim: We’re trying to find a good balance between the local and the global. We know we’ll get a lot of national and international tourists because of the high-quality chefs, but we think it’s important to marry that with local food items and local options, instead of a buffet that’s underwhelming. We have a food market with communal tables with great crab cakes (from Pappas Crabcakes). We brought in a Shake Shack. I went to college with Danny Meyer. We’re finding chefs that share our core values. Marcus Samuelsson is not only a great chef but supports local artists and local musicians.

Bisnow: What have you learned from the experience?

Jim: We promised not only to deliver this entertainment resort but to hire local, minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses. I’ve learned that there’s a tremendous pool of talent in the educational system of Maryland.