NORTHFIELD: The line of bundled-up gamblers angling to be among the first to enter the brand new Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park snaked deep into the busy parking lot. On a stage in front of the shiny new building, Northfield Mayor Jesse J. Nehez and other local officials, Hard Rock executives, Cleveland rock icon Michael Stanley, Cleveland Browns legend Bernie Kosar and others celebrated the grand opening of Summit County’s latest gambling venture.
A few Hard Rock Rocksino servers braved the cold, windy afternoon to offer trays of hot beverages for the soon-to-be customers while speeches were made. “Today the ordinary becomes the extraordinary,” Mayor Nehez said, calling the 20,000-square-foot building “a classy venue” that will spur the local economy.
The grand opening of a casino seemed to be the main draw for many of the folks waiting in line. Michelle Patterson of Garrettsville took off early from her job at General Electric to team up with her brother, David Verba of Ravenna, to be one of the first to use the slots-like video lottery terminals.
“We’re excited to see inside of here, just because of the Hard Rock thing. I’ve been to the ones in California and it’s just the guitars and the atmosphere inside,” Patterson said.
Verba, who also works for GE, said he’d never gambled in his life but brought $50 and couldn’t pass up the experience.
“This is probably one of the few times in my life that I will ever be at a casino opening,” Verba said.
“It’ll be neat. [The Hard Rock] is kind of a ’90s brand, but that’s my generation, so I dig it,” he said.
The siblings admitted there were better things to do than stand outside in a parking lot waiting to gamble, but agreed that the Rocksino should help the area.
“It can’t hurt. The Horseshoe [stinks], so this has got to be better,” Patterson said, laughing.
For entertainment, the folks in line could stare at the massive and always active video screens on the building’s facade, playing a montage of the attractions inside while Journey encouraged folks to Don’t Stop Believin’ through the loudspeakers.
Onstage, Hard Rock officials presented a pair of $40,000 checks to the Cleveland and Akron-Canton food banks before ending the ceremony with the Hard Rock corporation’s traditional opening day “guitar smash” featuring nearly a dozen VIPs in hard hats smashing (cheap) acoustic guitars on stage.
The doors opened and as the line of people swiftly made their way into the large, brightly lit main room, with classic and contemporary rock and pop piped in over the sound system, several Rocksino staff members lined up to applaud and welcome the customers and their money.
A few minutes later the sound of electronic slot-style machines began to drown out the sounds of Pink’s Let’s Get This Party Started as folks made a beeline for the cashier window and then picked among the myriad of games with names such as Mayan Chief, Golden Goddess and Shadow of the Panther covering the floor.
Artifacts on display
A few folks even stopped to look at the rock ’n’ roll artifacts on display that included guitars from legends such as John Lee Hooker, Eddie Van Halen and Kiss’ Paul Stanley. There were also stage clothes in display cases, including a black unitard with a plunging neckline worn by Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, Ike Turner’s fedora and a track suit and a hoodie worn by rapper Eminem.
The Hard Rock Live stage doors were closed while staff members prepared for the opening night concert by ’80s rocker Joan Jett, whose gear was already set up onstage as the sound and lighting technicians were checking out the new equipment in the otherwise empty hall.
Over at Kosar’s Wood-Fired Grill, featuring plenty of No. 19 Browns memorabilia (Kosar’s old jersey number), folks waited for seats and perused the menu while at the Center Bar servers gathered to welcome the Rocksino’s first birthday boy/customer with a song.
But the real action was taking place on the floor among the rows and rows of machines.
Lalita Lall of Cleveland was planted in front of a slot machine and described herself as a regular casinogoer who had played at all the casinos in the area.
“I’ve never been to one on the first day, so I just wanted to see what it’s like and to see if [the slots] are paying anything on the first day,” she said between berating her chosen machine for not paying.
Lall said she understood the moral objections to gambling, but said bringing more jobs and commerce to the area was too important while admitting “a lot of people are going to be broke.”
Lall offered a succinct review of the new Hard Rock Rocksino.
“It’s nice, everything is nice, but it’s not letting you win,” she said.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or firstname.lastname@example.org