I played the Hosreshoe Baltimore for the first time yesterday and I have to say my impressions are mostly positive. The Shoe is the second casino to open up in the Baltimore area so it is obvious to draw comparisons to the other Baltimore Casino, Maryland Live (MDL.)
LOCATION GRADE - D
Lets get one thing out of the way, the location sucks. The Shoe is located in an industrial area at the end of the Baltimore Washington Parkway between a warehouse and a Holiday Inn Express. Access to the Shoe from points south of Baltimore is fairly easy, you just take the BW Parkway into Baltimore and turn right into the building as soon as it turns into Russell Street. From points north of Baltimore (where I live) it is much more difficult. You can fight beltway traffic all the way around to the BW Parkway or take a very tortured route through the city with MANY stop lights. If you take the city route you have to turn left off of Russell Street (a divided highway with a new light and left turn lane added for the casino) and if you miss the turn you have to get onto the Parkway.
The Shoe is about 1/4 mile from the entrance to M&T Bank (Ravens) stadium. There is a walkway directly from the front door to the stadium which seems a safer and shorter route than walking through the surrounding neighborhood. They hope to do a lot of pre-game and post game business. They will be charging for parking on game days.
I think the location will be a significant detractor for this casino and many people will choose to continue to go to MDL.
EXTERIOR DESIGN GRADE - C
From the outside the building is architecturally bland. If you didn't see the Horseshoe name you probably wouldn't recognize it as a casino. One interesting feature that I noticed is they have what appears to be a smoking patio (I neither looked for it nor found it from the inside, not connected to the poker room.) What's interesting about this is that they have slot machines on the outdoor patio. As far as I know no other casino outside of Nevada offers outdoor gambling.
PARKING GRADE- B
Once you get to the parking garage there was plenty of parking and the garage is easy to navigate. The design actually seems to be fairly similar to MDL.
[b]INTERIOR DESIGN GRADE- B
Once you enter the building it is very nicely decorated with lots of golds and browns. Of course everything is new and plush so it compares favorably in that regard to MDL which is starting to get a bit worn after several years. The casino is situated on two floors. Only the bottom floor in the elevator from the parking garage is marked Casino. However, when the door opened on the second floor it was obvious from the noise and crowds that there was a casino on that floor, a little bit confusing. There was nothing to indicate which floor the poker room was on.
FACILITIES GRADE- B+
I did not get an opportunity to eat at any of the restaurants but at the risk of judging a book by its cover the Shoe seems to offer a much better selection of dining choices than MDL (that is not saying much the food choices at MDL are awful.) The shoe also has a stage on the first floor where they will offer live entertainment for free. This is a place where you could come with someone who has no interest in gambling.
POKER ROOM GRADE B+
Once you find the poker room it has the same classy decoration as the rest of the casino. Architecturally it reminds me of the old Caesars LV poker room but with a warmer feel. There are large photos around the room of former WSOP Champions. The room is very spacious and comfortable. Games of $2/5 and higher are only played nine handed which provides for plenty of room at the table. A friend who was with me complained that it was cold in the poker room but I did not notice it.
They allow a straddle from any position up to five times the big blind. At my $1.3 table no one ever straddled but at my friend's $2/5 table almost everyone straddled from the button. Also the buyin for $2/5 is $200-$800 which is higher than MDL so if you like deep stack poker you might prefer the Shoe.
The TV's are appropriately spaced around the room so every table has a good view of at least one. The room is not so large that even if you have your back to the closest TV you still have a reasonable view of one across the room.
There is a restroom located immediately outside of the poker room which is a huge improvement over the second floor of MDL's poker room.
Another nice feature of the poker room at the Shoe is that you get your first buy in from the chip runners. This cuts down significantly on the wait time to cash out which is always a problem at MDL.
The room at the Shoe is half the size of MDL's (27 tables v. 52) so there won't be as many games to choose from. On the other hand the Shoe spreads $1/3 which I prefer to $1/2 at MDL.
Once you find the room there is monitor showing the wait list immediately outside the entrance to the poker room. This is the only monitor showing the wait list so if you want to play another game while you are on a wait list you cannot monitor your progress. Also, as you approach the registration desk there is no way to tell how long the list is for the game you want, how many table are playing that game, etc.
OVERALL GRADE- B
I like the Shoe. The obvious question from people who have not been there is whether I prefer the Shoe or MDL. Both facilities have their strong points as well as some drawbacks. Really it is a matter of personal preference. For now I plan to play my next few sessions at the Shoe.