CLEVELAND: Horseshoe Casino Cleveland is expecting an avalanche of gamblers and gawkers when it opens Monday night, becoming the first commercial casino in Ohio.
“We are planning for bedlam,” Rock Gaming principal Nate Forbes said Wednesday during a media tour of the casino.
The Horseshoe, spread over four floors of the former Higbee Co. department store on Public Square downtown, can hold about 11,000 people. Officials have no idea how many gamblers will show up when the doors swing open to the public at 9:30 p.m.
But over the next year, the casino, which is connected to the Terminal Tower, expects to draw about 5 million visits.
“You have a lot of people who are looking forward to it,” Tonja Kennedy, 22, of Cleveland, said as she stood outside on Public Square.
Kennedy, who’s partial to blackjack and craps, said she’ll be one of those gamblers visiting the casino and may even stop by on opening night. She added that she would like to get a job there.
Casino workers were busy Wednesday with training and making final improvements, such as installing signs. The casino will hold a live test today featuring family members of employees to work out any last-minute kinks.
The smoke-free facility, which will be open 24 hours, smells of freshly installed carpet and is decked out in brown, tan and gold. As expected in a Las Vegas-style casino, everything sparkles — partly because it’s brand new. There are even giant, glittery chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
The developers attempted to preserve the historic character of the 81-year-old former department store, with original decorative plaster, columns, windows and entrances kept intact.
But it may be difficult for former shoppers or fans of A Christmas Story — the store was featured in the famous film — to envision the store setup, given the extensive renovations, low ceilings filled with security cameras, and slots and table games squeezed into the space.
Rock Gaming and Caesars Entertainment, which will operate the casino, estimated they have invested about $350 million in the casino project.
The Higbee’s site is considered phase one, with the possibility of building a separate facility along the Cuyahoga River in the future. But Forbes said Rock Gaming is focused on the current casino and not the next phase.
For anyone who has ever stepped into a casino, the 96,000-square-foot gaming area will look familiar. It’s filled with 2,100 slot machines and 63 table games, including blackjack, roulette, craps and three-card poker.
The slots and table games are spread over the second and third floors. The fourth floor features a World Series of Poker room with large portraits of poker celebrities such as Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu on the walls and a VIP lounge.
The first floor contains a 400-seat buffet. There are large portraits of former Cleveland Cavaliers stars Brad Daugherty, Mark Price and Austin Carr on the walls — a subtle reminder that the casino is owned by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who heads Rock Gaming.
People who don’t want to eat at the buffet can stop by a small food court featuring the Italian Rosie & Rocco’s, Corky & Lenny’s deli, and B Spot, Michael Symon’s burger restaurant.
The casino has two bars. State law prohibits alcoholic drinks from being given to gamblers free.
There’s also a gift shop in the Collection Auto Group Centre, the casino’s 1,300-space parking garage at Ontario and Prospect streets. The garage has both self- and valet parking.
Because the casino is operated by Caesars, it will be part of the Total Rewards players club system. Cards allow gamblers to earn credits toward free meals, parking, concerts and gifts.
More casinos coming
The Horseshoe is the first of four commercial casinos opening in the state. Ohio voters in 2009 approved a constitutional amendment authorizing casino gambling in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo.
Rock Gaming owns the Cleveland and Cincinnati facilities. Penn National Gaming Inc. owns the Columbus and Toledo casinos.
The Hollywood Casino in Toledo is expected to open May 29. Opening dates haven’t been scheduled for the other two.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.