Ohio's 4th casino gets ready to open in Cincinnati

AMANDA LEE MYERS Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Hundreds of die-hard gamblers and curious locals lined up on a cold and drizzly night in Cincinnati on Monday for the opening of Ohio's fourth casino.

Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati was set to open Monday night after more than two years of construction, and about four years after voters approved of four casinos in Ohio's largest cities to boost the state's economy.

People began lining up to be among the first guests at the $400 million downtown casino more than two hours before it was to open. Many were clearly excited to be there while others complained about parking and other logistics.

"Already it's been a hassle," said Geraldine Parker, a 57-year-old retired Cincinnati resident who said that while the casino is "gorgeous," she was upset that all the parking on the property for opening night was reserved for VIPs. "I want to know who got that."

Parker, who parked across the street for $10, said she goes to Hollywood Casino about 25 miles to the west in Lawrenceburg, Ind., two to four times a week and spends thousands of dollars there. It will take a lot for Cincinnati's casino to win her over, she said.

"They've got to treat me right because I'm spending a lot of money," she said.

Another visitor was Sam Cox, 45, who drove from about 25 miles away in Foster, Ky., to try his luck at slots and some table games.

"It's opening night. We want to see what it looks like," said Cox, who said that he thought the casino would be good for the community by generating more tax dollars, even if they were going to Ohio coffers.

Kentucky law does not allow for casino gambling, although that state's governor has been trying to get the issue passed since he took office in 2007.

Ebony Box, a 37-year-old Cincinnati resident who had wanted to get a glimpse inside the casino, left shortly after arriving because of a long line.

She said she was excited about the casino but felt that money spent on building it would have been better if put toward affordable housing for the city's poorer residents.

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory has already hailed the casino as a home run for the city, although projected revenues are far lower now than when Ohio voters approved casinos in 2009.

"This casino will have the ability to draw people from all around the country," Mallory said. "This is a top-line casino, and the people who are accustomed to the big casinos in Vegas, they're not going to miss anything here."

Though no hotels are attached, and nothing quite compares to the energy or spectacle of the Vegas strip, Mallory said the Cincinnati casino is big time. What once was a run-down parking lot is now a bustling spot that includes a buffet, a VIP players' lounge with limits as high as $50,000, a World Series of Poker room and three outward-facing restaurants, including Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and a burger joint by celebrity chef Bobby Flay. Both Buffett and Flay also have outposts in Las Vegas.

Flay, who was in Cincinnati for the opening of the 14th Bobby's Burger Place, said the casino felt just like Vegas.

He said when Caesars Entertainment approached him, he hesitated at first since all the other Bobby's Burgers are in the Northeast. But he said he was attracted to Cincinnati's burgeoning food scene and the bustle of a casino.

"When you build a structure like this, obviously there's something good going on here," Flay said inside the casino. "I think it's incredible. It's a Vegas casino. I've seen some other regional casinos and they're not even close to this."

Cincinnati's casino is projected to draw about $227 million in gross revenue in its first year. That would bring in about $75 million in taxes.

Casinos in Cleveland, Toledo and Columbus all opened over the past year and have brought in nearly $404 million combined. From that, about $133.2 million has gone to Ohio schools, counties and cities.

Ohio's casinos were originally forecast to bring in nearly $2 billion annually. Now, their yearly revenues are expected to be just under $1 billion.

Industry experts say the lower revenues are a result of the economic climate and competition from storefront gambling-style operations in the state known as Internet cafes.


Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP

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