Hundreds line up for debut of Ohio's first casino

THOMAS J. SHEERAN Associated Press Published:

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Gamblers hoping to get lucky lined up to open Ohio's first casino, which has promised a boost to downtown Cleveland while potentially posing a threat to casinos in nearby states.

Horseshoe Casino Cleveland opens to the public at 9:30 p.m. Monday.

Hundreds began lining up more than four hours early to test the slot machines and roulette wheels, but were to be admitted behind VIP guests and winners of an early-admission online sweepstakes.

The casino promised a surprise "video" ribbon-cutting to mark the debut. The media was barred from inside the casino.

Brad Hirsch, vice president and assistant general manager, said dealers, mostly rookies hired from the area, were ready to shake off first-night jitters and were skillful in a dry run.

"The dealers did exceptionally well. Again, this is a group that's been training for four and five months on a new career and they did outstanding," he said outside a VIP reception tent.

Razidus Conard, 33, of Cleveland, said the convenience of the hometown casino would change his routine of traveling to casinos in Detroit, Erie, Pa., and Chester, W.Va.

"It's right here where I live, easy access," said Conard, a drywall installer whose favorite game is blackjack.

Craig Jordan, 54, of Cleveland, watching police cordon off traffic lanes around the casino, said he expects the casino to help the city's economy but doubts he can afford to gamble.

"I believe it probably will work out. You just have to keep all the riff-raff out," said Jordan, a dishwasher and food prep worker.

"I can't afford it right now because I'm single and I'm struggling for a living. I'm barely making what I need to make."

Melvin Bryant, 64, selling a $1.25 street newspaper written by fellow homeless, felt lucky getting a prime peddling spot across the street from the casino and had some advice for gamblers.

"You can't beat the house, the odds are against it," he said. "If you do happen to have a lucky streak, you should go along with the lucky streak and move on out, that's what good gamblers do. Gamblers don't play to lose, they play to win."

Ohio voters in 2009 approved casino gambling at four sites in the state with backers promising new jobs and opponents warning about more gambling addicts. A casino in Toledo will open in two weeks, and casinos in Cincinnati and Columbus are set to open by next year.

A group of unions announced Monday that they had reached an agreement with the operators of the Cincinnati and Cleveland casinos that will allow workers there to be represented by a union of their choice.

The Cleveland casino has about 2,100 slot machines, 63 table games, a 30-table World Series of Poker room and a VIP lounge.

The casino expects 5 million visitors a year.

Rock Gaming, led by Dan Gilbert, who owns the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, developed the casino with Caesars Entertainment, which is managing day-to-day operations and whose brands include Harrah's, Flamingo and Bally's.

The city is revved up to create a good first impression for people who maybe haven't been downtown in a generation, said Joe Marinucci, head of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance which promotes the city.

"If that first experience is good they are going to go home and say, 'Hey, you know what? We visited the casino, had a great time. Downtown Cleveland looks great. You ought to try it'," Marinucci said.

Backers are counting on it.

"If you look at the enthusiasm and the support that we've gotten from this entire project, you'll find that the excitement here is at an all-time high," Rock Gaming's Jeff Cohen said.


Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo contributed to this report.

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