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Published: Tuesday, 5/15/2012

Thousands turn out for Cleveland casino opening

BY THOMAS OTT
(CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER

CLEVELAND -- Ohio's casino era debuted Monday night with crowds and celebration in Cleveland.

The turnout hit 4,000 by the time the doors opened to the public shortly before 9:30 p.m., according to the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland's count, and was edging toward the 5,000 cap that General Manager Marcus Glover said he would impose to keep the setting comfortable.

An invited crowd of 1,000 VIPs mingled at a reception under a tent on Public Square outside the casino two hours before the opening.

After sunset, a three-dimensional video lighted the facade of the former Higbee's store, paying tribute to the casino, Higbee's, Cleveland, and the city's attractions.

People, who were allowed to begin lining up at 5 p.m., snaked down Ontario Street and West Prospect Avenue waiting to get into the only opening-night entrance.

Some got a pleasant surprise when casino officials passed out dozens of wristbands good for priority admission. The casino said it had awarded all of the 1,500 wristbands available in an on-line drawing, but some went unclaimed.

Matt Cullen, president and chief operating officer of casino owner Dan Gilbert's Rock Gaming LLC, didn't want the turnout to get too large.

He preferred an environment that would let nervous dealers work out kinks and patrons get their bearings.

"We did it on Monday night on purpose to make sure it was balanced," he said.

Caesars Entertainment holds a minority stake in the casino and will manage the facility, which has 1,600 employees, 2,100 slot machines, 64 gaming tables and 30 poker tables.

Gayle Crowell, a cleaner for University Hospitals, arrived at 2 p.m. to get a spot third in line behind the wristband winners and was strategically positioned to get an unclaimed wristband when they were distributed.

The slots enthusiast said she travels about twice a year to border state casinos like Presque Isle near Erie, Pa., and Mountaineer Casino in Chester, W.Va., but plans to be a regular at the Cleveland casino.

"I'm glad they are opening. We don't have to go out of town to gamble," said Ms. Crowell, who is in her 50s. "I'm going to be here all the time."

The crowd was heavy on sports stars: the Cleveland Browns' Josh Cribbs and Joe Haden, Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann, and former Cavalier Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Gov. John Kasich, who voted against the constitutional amendment in 2009 that allowed casino gambling, skipped the ceremonies, but spokesman Rob Nichols said it was nothing personal.

"The schedule didn't work out," Mr. Nichols said.

Downtown hotels reported booming business, thanks, at least in part to rooms booked by the casino.

Cleveland's casino is the first of four allowed in Ohio under a constitutional amendment. Penn National Gaming will open Hollywood Casino in Toledo on May 29, the day after Memorial Day.



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