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First of Four Ohio Casinos Debuts in Cleveland

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Monday night marked the opening of the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, the first of four gaming meccas expected to herald a revival of fortunes in the Upper Midwest of the United States.

Visitors lined up around the block for the grand opening at 9:30 p.m.; instead of a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a video projected on one of the building’s outer walls showed a historical montage and ended with a parting curtain.

The casino had previously set a cap of 5,000 visitors for the first night, and estimated they had nearly reached that limit by the time of the grand opening. A group of about 1,000 VIPs mingled at a reception which began two hours before.

With 1,600 people on the payroll, including 600 dealers, the 24-hour gaming palace now ranks as one of Cleveland’s largest employers; more than 90 percent of the hires are from Northeast Ohio. The site is on the location of the former Higbee’s (later Dillard’s) department store made famous in the 1983 movie "A Christmas Story."

Project developers Rock Gaming LLC, along with Caesars Entertainment, is expecting the facility to attract as many as five million people per year. Dan Gilbert, the owner of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers franchise, also owns the Cleveland casino as the CEO of Rock Gaming.

Three others will open in stages, with the Hollywood Casino Toledo debuting May 29 and Columbus and Cincinnati slated to start by spring 2013. Cleveland’s cost is estimated at $350 million and the Toledo development is pegged at $320 million, while the Columbus and Cincinnati projects should come in around $400 million each.

The initiative began with the “Issue 3” ballot in 2009; 53 percent of voters approved the measure in part to create jobs in an area hit hard by recession. It was the fifth attempt in the past 20 years to pass similar propositions; opposition came from church groups and others who focused on the moral issues surrounding gambling.

With more than 2,000 slots, 63 table games, a World Series of Poker room containing 30 tables and a VIP lounge for high-end gamblers, the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland is focused on the gaming. There is no attached hotel or Vegas-style stage shows; there are no complimentary alcoholic drinks, either, as they are prohibited under state law. A videographer for ABC-TV affiliate Newsnet 5 in Cleveland took a tour of the facility and posted his own impressions.

Meanwhile, the Ohio plans are being blamed for the layoffs of 17 full-time and 10 part-time staff at Caesars Windsor in Ontario, which employs 3,300 people. An analysis also estimates the four Ohio casinos could drain as much as $30 million in tax revenues from the City of Detroit.

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