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Published: Tuesday, 5/29/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

It's showtime for Hollywood Casino Toledo

10,000 visitors anticipated for grand opening

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
An invitation-only inauguration ceremony is scheduled for early today, with guests including Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, city councilmen, and other officials. Entertainment is planned throughout the opening day. An invitation-only inauguration ceremony is scheduled for early today, with guests including Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, city councilmen, and other officials. Entertainment is planned throughout the opening day.
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Slot machines running? Check.

Floors polished? Done.

Giant inauguration ribbon in place? Complete.

All that was missing at Hollywood Casino Toledo on Monday, a day before today's long-awaited opening, were customers.

"Before people are in here, it's just a building with a lot of lights and machines," marketing manager John McNamara said as he gave a last-minute tour of the 125,000-square-foot gaming floor, where billboards and games flashed to the sound of Frank Sinatra songs. "But once you get people in here and you get the excitement of people gambling and winning, you can really feel that you go to work at a casino every day."

Hollywood Casino Toledo officially opens to the public at 2 p.m. An invitation-only inauguration ceremony is scheduled for the morning, with guests including Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, city councilmen, and other officials. Entertainment is planned throughout the day, including live music, radio broadcasts from inside the casino, and a disc jockey.

While most of the casino's 1,300 workers had the day off Monday to prepare for the grand opening day, several teams of supervisors, technicians, cleaners, and marketing staff members could be seen adding finishing touches and performing final system checks inside the glitzy and immaculate gaming hall.

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Mike Gaynor, left, and Austin Young attend to last-minute polishing outside the casino in preparation for today's 2 p.m. grand opening in East Toledo. Mike Gaynor, left, and Austin Young attend to last-minute polishing outside the casino in preparation for today's 2 p.m. grand opening in East Toledo.
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"We're just excited. We want tomorrow to be here already," said Ruthann Huston, one of three cleaners who were polishing a gold, art deco-style statue at the casino's entrance. "We're really happy to have our jobs. And we're excited for Toledo."

Network administrator Mark Niekranz of Waterville, who sat on the floor surrounded by cables, said he was looking forward to seeing visitors enjoy the site that he and other staff members have spent months preparing. Mr. Niekranz said he's been working since January to get the casino's various computer systems up and running. He got his first peek at the results May 24 during a required trial opening.

"It's been a lot, it's been a challenge," said Mr. Niekranz with a grin. "But it's rewarding. When we had our soft opening, I came up to the [gaming] floor. It was the first time I heard the machines play and people walking around enjoying themselves. That's when it really hit me that I had succeeded at putting something together that people are enjoying."

Austin Young, a member of the cleaning staff, said he can't wait for people to actually make a mess. Since April, he's been wiping away construction dust and polishing floor tiles, but now he said he's ready to see the full impact of the thousands of visitors expected at the casino. Officials have predicted a show of 10,000 people during the course of the day today.

"After awhile it gets kinda boring cleaning the same stuff that's already been cleaned," Mr. Young said, brandishing a duster.

"We've been telling people, hey, if you want to spill your drink, go ahead. Don't even try to save it. Let it go."

For many casino workers, the transformation of the site at the border of East Toledo and Rossford has been nothing short of remarkable.

Mr. McNamara said he can remember driving past when it was just a field.

"It's kind of surreal," he said. "It seems like a long time ago, but really time went very fast."

With the big day finally here, the manager admitted to feeling a little anxious about it all. Although he previously worked at Toledo's Raceway Park, it's the first time he's been involved in a casino opening.

Brianna Chipps of Toledo puts up the ribbon to be cut at Hollywood Casino Toledo's  grand opening ceremony. Brianna Chipps of Toledo puts up the ribbon to be cut at Hollywood Casino Toledo's grand opening ceremony.
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"We've been working on it for so long, it's hard not to think about it, even when you know everything's been done," he said. "You just want everything to be perfect."

Keira Finnegan, advertising and promotions manager, took a more laid-back approach as she and two coordinators saw to the final details of the inauguration ribbon and stage. For Ms. Finnegan, who worked at two other casinos in Pennsylvania, today marks her third casino opening. The best part is seeing all the plans for the grand opening finally take shape, she said.

"I'm confident," she said. "We're ready to go."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.



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