MGM National Harbor ups action, distancing with outdoor gaming terrace

For those who think of casinos as indoor-only worlds,  without clocks or windows to the outside world to keep players playing — and spending money — MGM National Harbor is a breath of fresh air, literally.

“Growing up I had the same perception,” acknowledged Alex Alverado, MGM National Harbor’s Vice President of Casino Operations. “Here you get plenty of natural light coming into the casino floor — this is really more the casino of the future.”

As the increasing number COVID-19 vaccinations ups the odds of putting the coronavirus pandemic in the past, MGM National Harbor recently opened an outdoor gaming terrace, where guests can play outdoors, while keeping some distance from fellow gamers.

“We’ve got 41 of the most popular slot machines on the current casino floor. We brought them out to this open air, spacious concept,” Alverado said.

While social distancing has been a key feature in maintaining public health, Alverado said the idea of moving casino games outside existed before the pandemic’s arrival in March 2020.

“This concept was in development before COVID,” Alverado said. “But I think COVID allowed us to reprioritize, and it felt like something that was more prudent than ever in these times, for sure.”

Games including Dancing Drums, Buffalos and 88 Fortunes are spread apart, providing extra distance between players.

“If you look at it, there’s actually more space between each slot in this space than in what I would call a more traditional format,” Alverado said. “And we’re doing this, at the same time, inside the casino itself.

At gaming tables, plexiglass breath shields separate gamers from each other and the dealer.

Unlike inside the casino, smoking is allowed on the terrace.

“You can’t smoke indoors, but in this space, the customer who wants to smoke while they game has the opportunity to do so,” Alverado said.

In fact, most of the gamers during an early-afternoon visit to the gaming terrace were smoking, or had a pack of cigarettes on their lap or on the machine. Visitors sensitive to cigarette smoke will notice it, despite being outdoors.



For guests who currently prefer to avoid indoor crowd gatherings, the outdoor gaming terrace is in close proximity to the parking garage.

“You park, enter the facility, immediately take a left, there’s the M Life Rewards desk, you grab your promotions, any free play, and the outdoor space is adjacent to that,” Alverado said.

While the majority of focus will remain on the indoor casino, Alverado said the outdoor terrace will continue to develop.

“We have intent for this space to be here, and if anything to be evolved and improved over time,” Alverado said. “It will be even better for our guests as we get some of their input.”

The view from the terrace is outstanding, and worth maximizing.

“You can stare into D.C., you can stare into Virginia, we’re sitting here on the Potomac. Your mind can kind of wander as to what else we can do with this space,” he said.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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