COLUMBUS — Hollywood Casino Toledo may open its doors no earlier than May 29 as state regulators Wednesday handed its Cleveland counterpart the honor of becoming Ohio’s first Las Vegas-style casino.
Despite a call from one of its members, Toledo attorney Pete Silverman, to leave the decision to the luck of a coin toss, the commission appeared to be swayed by delays experienced in getting final license applications from board members of an investment company that holds a tiny share of Penn National Gaming, Inc.
Penn is the owner of the casino on the East Toledo riverfront.
Rock Caesars Ohio was given the green light to open its Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland sometime during the week of May 14. That’s roughly two months later than it originally had hoped before the commission made it clear that its target date would not allow enough time for regulators to meet their licensing, investigation, testing, and other obligations.
The commission set the opening for Penn’s casino for the week of May 28, but made it clear that the opening could not take place on Memorial Day. The casino had originally hoped for an April 1 opening before the commission nixed that.
“No other state has been able to stand up two casinos in a period of two weeks, particularly when they’ve never had a casino up in their state,” said commission Chairman Jo Ann Davidson.
Mr. Silverman was the sole negative vote on the timetable.
“The fairest way to figure out which operator goes first…., I think, should be a coin toss…,” he said. “It’s neutral. I think that’s the fairest way to go.”
The commission had left it to the two operators to work out between themselves who would go first, but they weren’t able to do it. The commission made the decision for them.
“They’re both at the starting gate,” said Mr. Silverman, who had originally opposed the 2009 constitutional amendment that authorized the opening of four Ohio casinos on specific parcels in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.
Only the Toledo and Cleveland casinos largely have their physical structures in place, even through the commission has yet to issue either operator a license.
Before the official grand openings take place, both casinos will go through “soft openings” in which customers may gamble but any revenue generated would go to charity. The idea is to make sure that the bugs have been worked out of the equipment and operations before the real gambling takes place a few days later.
Commission Executive Director Matt Schuler said he believes either operator could be cleared in time for the first opening date, although he noted that Penn was further behind in the process because of a dispute over which members of the board of Fortress Investment Group, a holding company with a 0.25 percent stake in Penn, would have to go through background checks as part of the licensing process.
The last Fortress application was received on Jan. 31.
Mr. Silverman, however, suggested that Penn should be allowed to open first because of the Pennsylvania companies’ casino experience compared to Rock, which he described as “first timers.”
Mr. Schuler said Rock’s “first-timer” experience was not expected to lead to delays.