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COLUMBUS -- Toledo's $300 million casino received the green light to open its doors no earlier than May 29 as state regulators Wednesday handed the bragging rights of being Ohio's first Las Vegas-style casino to its Cleveland competition.
Despite a call from one of its members, Toledo lawyer Peter Silverman, to leave the decision up to the toss of a coin, the Ohio Casino Control Commission appeared to be swayed by delays experienced in Toledo. Those included 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 Hollywood Casino Toledo, which is to open on the Maumee riverfront next to Rossford.
Rock Ohio Caesars may open the first phase of its $350 million Horseshoe Casino in a downtown Cleveland former department store sometime during the week of May 14.
That's roughly two months later than it had hoped before the commission made it clear that its target date would not allow enough time for regulators to meet their licensing and other obligations.
Matt Schuler, commission executive director, stressed that the target dates remain tentative and could change if a snag develops in the licensing process.
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.
"We've been advised [by other gambling states] to avoid holidays," Mr. Schuler said. "We want to have for any first opening the most normal, controlled circumstances. On a holiday, you would have an unusual crowd and unusual circumstances. We will work with the Toledo casino on that issue, but we wanted to be up front about our hesitation."
Hollywood Casino Toledo originally had hoped for an April 1 opening.
"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.
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Mr. Silverman cast 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."
The commission initially 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.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2009 to authorize four Ohio casinos on specific parcels in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Only Toledo and Cleveland have their physical structures in place, even though the commission has yet to issue either operator a license.
The commission is preparing for the delivery and testing of 4,000 slot machines for Ohio, 2,000 each for Toledo and Cleveland.
Before the official grand openings take place, both casinos must go through "soft openings" in which customers may gamble but any revenue generated would go to charity. The idea is to make sure that any bugs have been worked out before the real gambling begins.
"Obviously, we were both interested in opening first because both felt they'd be ready to go," said Penn spokesman Bob Tenenbaum. "We never considered it a competition. Our desire was simply to get open as fast as we could get open."
"We have a building that's going to be completed by March 30," he said. "I think we're surprised by the length of the delay and obviously disappointed that we'll be going second, but having said that, we're going to have to regroup and set in motion a new schedule."
He could not provide an estimate on how much money Penn would lose for every day the casino will be delayed beyond its original April 1 target. However, local governments such as the city of Toledo, which have budgets that count on gaming tax, have had to scramble.
"It's disappointing because there's a lot of jobs tied to that and a lot of incomes tied to families in the area," said Mayor Mike Bell. "It is what it is, but I'm disappointed."
Marcus Glover, Horseshoe Cleveland general manager, said that casino will be ready.
"On behalf of our entire team who will start exciting new casino careers, I couldn't be prouder to debut this first-class entertainment destination to the city, to the state, and to the nation in May," he said. "The commission's efforts allow us to move forward with several critical steps needed prior to our launch."
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Meanwhile, the Ohio House voted 65-29 to send the Senate a bill that attempts to write between the lines of the casino constitutional amendment approved by voters, deals negotiated between casino operators and Gov. John Kasich, plans to install slot machines at Ohio's seven horse-racing tracks as an extension of the Ohio Lottery, and rules already written by the casino and lottery commissions.
House Bill 386 earmarks 1 percent of racetrack owners' share of slots profits for gambling-addiction programs. It no longer contains controversial language that would have required local governments to spend 50 percent of their gambling revenue on police, fire, and other public safety services.
It eases restrictions on the operation of charitable bingo games, including allowing them to operate later into the night, to help them compete in Ohio's expanding gambling market. The bill also expands the number of days that tracks must offer live racing as a condition of getting slots licenses.
State Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon) was among the "no" votes, saying he considers the bill to be the "final nail in the coffin" of Raceway Park in Toledo. Penn, which owns the harness-racing track, has indicated it intends to ask the Ohio State Racing Commission to transfer its license to Dayton because it believes a track slots parlor in Toledo would compete for business with its new casino.
Staff writer Claudia Boyd-Barrett contributed to this report.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-221-0496