CLEVELAND: The Horseshoe Casino Cleveland opened to a full house Monday.
Amid fanfare and large crowds, Ohio’s first casino opened its doors at 9:30 p.m.
Thousands stood in line — some for hours — on Public Square for the chance to be among the first to walk through the doors of the former Higbee’s department store.
“I don’t have to go to West Virginia. I don’t have to go to Canada,” said Carmen Vazquez of Cleveland, who is happy to have a casino in her backyard.
The Horseshoe is opening 2½ years after Ohio voters approved allowing four Las Vegas- style casinos in the state. The Cleveland site is the first to start operating, with the Hollywood Casino Toledo scheduled to open next on May 29. The others will be in Cincinnati and Columbus but opening dates haven’t been set yet.
Rob Anderson, 34, of Eastlake, and his mother, Jackie Minor, 59, of Mentor, were excited to check out the transformation of the former department store.
“I really want to see how they made the place look and take it all in, first and foremost,” said Anderson, who works in Cuyahoga Falls. “The gambling can come later. I want to soak it all in.”
Colleen Miller of Hudson said she decided to attend the opening to see what all the “hoopla” was about.
“I think it will bring a lot of vitality to the city,” Miller said.
Joe Tucker, 52, of Cleveland, decided to celebrate his birthday at the casino. He hopes some birthday luck will rub off on the slots and at the blackjack table.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said.
Those gathered outside of the casino hours before the grand opening were greeted by guards and portable toilets. News helicopters buzzed overhead and reporters milled around outside as the media were not let inside.
A large tent was set up on Public Square for a private party for politicians and casino executives.
The elite invitation-only group was the first to walk a red carpet into the casino. Among the politicians was Green Mayor Dick Norton, whose community is being looked at by Rock Ohio Caesars as a potential site for a combined horse racetrack and video slots parlor should it opt to move Thistledown south away from its Horseshoe Casino.
“The energy and excitement is overwhelming,” Brad Hirsch, assistant general manager of the casino, said of Monday’s opening.
He said the 1,600 casino employees worked hard getting ready for the opening.
“We’re just so excited to show off what we believe is a one-of-a-kind facility. There’s no other casino that has the rich history and tie into the community that building has,” Hirsch said.
Rock Gaming and Caesars Entertainment, which will operate the smoke-free casino, estimated they have invested $350 million in the project.
The Horseshoe fills four remodeled floors of the former Higbee Co. department store in downtown Cleveland. Two of the floors are dedicated to 2,100 slot machines and 63 table games, including blackjack, roulette, craps and three-card poker.
The top level features a World Series of Poker room and VIP lounge. The bottom level contains a 400-seat buffet. There also is a small food court with three restaurants.
The casino — which is awash in brown, tan and gold colors — has two bars. But no one should expect free alcoholic drinks. State law prohibits that.
Rock Gaming is owned by Dan Gilbert, who also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lake Erie Monsters and Quicken Loans. Caesars runs the gaming facility. The Las Vegas-based company owns or manages 52 casinos worldwide, including the brands Caesars, Harrah’s, Planet Hollywood, Bally’s and Rio.
The casino is expected to attract 5 million visitors in its first year.
Anderson said the casino’s opening is a “historic day” for the city.
“I really applaud Dan Gilbert for getting this done,” Anderson said. “This is a milestone.”
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson praised the casino owner’s efforts to connect the Horseshoe with restaurants, hotels and other businesses downtown.
“It helps us get what I call a 24-hour city,” Jackson said. “A city that is alive and there’s something to do 24 hours a day.”
Gilbert addressed those who gathered before a short video highlighting the Caesars brand and Cleveland’s cultural, sports and tourist attractions was projected onto the side of the former department store to mark the grand opening.
“This is an urban casino. This is a casino designed and developed to invigorate downtown Cleveland and make downtown Cleveland an entertainment center,” Gilbert said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330 996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.