‘Viva Ross-Vegas!’ Casino to open May 29Written by Caitlin McGlade | | email@example.com
Hollywood Casino Toledo’s interior demands attention from four of your five senses the moment you step onto its granite floors.
All at once.
An LED banner stretches across the entrance, rapidly scrolling through images of limousines and glamorous women. Then it’s Toledo’s skyline and the words “HOLLYWOOD CASINO” positioned on a hill like California’s famous “Hollywood” sign.
Guitars wail and singers croon from the H Lounge stage, which glows purple and blue in the distance. Past rows of table games, slot machines beep, whir and blink, each offering a quick escape into a fantasy — a jungle, ancient Egypt, outer space or the ocean floor.
The aroma of cakes and pastries tugs visitors toward Epic Buffet, where chefs work busily and glass cases display desserts like edible artwork.
“This is the first Las Vegas-style casino in Ohio and as people walk in they forget they’re in Toledo,” General Manager Richard St. Jean said during a media tour May 21, a sneak peek before the official opening at 2 p.m. May 29.
Visitors might also forget where they’re going from one end of the casino floor to the other. The 125,000-square-foot gaming area offers 2,002 slot machines and 60 table games and 20 live poker tables. More than 220 televisions, lining the walls and standing on columns amidst the card tables, compete for eye contact. Scene, the swanky sports bar beside the stage, features glass panels splashed with televised game broadcasts.
“You’ll never miss a sporting event,” said Neal Perry, director of table games. “If you look to your right you’ll see a TV and if you turn to your left you’ll see a TV.”
The casino offers 24 beers on tap and a slew of fancy liquor drinks. Final Cut Steak & Seafood even offers pre-prohibition-style Manhattans brewed in wooden barrels.
All the high-tech buzz is woven into a 1930s art-deco feel, marked with movie posters boasting stars like Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.
Most of the chairs are covered in white leather, with material textured like alligator skin.
Mock-stone columns stretch from the floor to the ceiling, accentuated with rows of spheres that resemble continuous chains of pearl necklaces.
The Hollywood Casino Toledo has been a long time coming.
Ohio voters passed Issue 3 on Nov. 3, 2009, with 53 percent of voters in favor. The measure amended the Ohio Constitution to allow casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.
Proponents argued the casinos would generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue for the state, create local jobs at a time when Ohio’s unemployment rate was nearly 11 percent and keep money in Ohio rather than sending it to casinos in neighboring states.
Opponents argued that casinos have negative effects on compulsive gamblers, their families and communities and would likely attract out-of-state owners.
“The fundamental reasoning against gambling is the impact it has on people who become problem gamblers — people mortgage their houses, they do all kinds of things to get money to go gamble more,” said Tom Smith, public policy director for the Ohio Council of Churches, which opposed the measure.
The 2009 measure succeeded where four previous attempts had failed. A 1990 initiative proposing a casino resort hotel in Lorain failed with 37 percent of voters in favor. A 1996 initiative proposing eight permanently moored riverboat gaming facilities was defeated with 38 percent of voters in favor.
A 2006 initiative proposing allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks failed with 43 percent of voters in favor. A 2008 initiative proposing a privately owned $600 million resort and casino near Wilmington was defeated with 37 percent of voters in favor.
Smith pointed to these failures as evidence that voters approved the casinos in 2009 because they were marketed as a job growth source.
“It would never have passed if we wouldn’t have been in an economic downturn,” Smith said.
After the measure passed, lawmakers were given six months to enact regulations on how the casinos would operate and grant licenses to casino operators. Meanwhile, developers began design work. Ground was broken in August 2010 on the $320 million casino. More than 1,300 employees have been hired, 90 percent of them local.
Per state legislation, the casinos will have an entry age of 21, rules prohibiting free drinks and smoking and no alcohol sold after 2:30 a.m.
One of the guidelines for Toledo’s casino was it could not build a hotel on-site or within 10 miles until Lucas County hotels sustain a 68 percent occupancy threshold for a three-year period.
Each casino will pay a fixed tax of 33 percent of gross casino revenue. Fifty-one percent of the revenue will be distributed among Ohio’s 88 counties in proportion to population; half of each county’s distribution will go to its largest city if that city’s population is above 80,000. Thirty-four percent of the revenue will be distributed among all public school districts, 5 percent among host cities, 3 percent to Ohio Casino Control Commission, 3 percent to the Ohio State Racing Commission fund, 2 percent to a state law enforcement training fund and 2 percent to a state problem gambling and addictions fund.
Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino became the first casino in the state when it opened May 14. Hollywood Casino Columbus is set to open this fall while the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati is set to open spring 2013.
Once all four are open, the casinos are expected to generate about $25.3 million in annual tax revenue for the City of Toledo, Lucas County and Lucas County school districts.
Although Michigan does not report payout for slot machines in its casinos, the state receives an average of $121 million in wagering tax each year, said Eric T. Bush, administrative manager for the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB). Michigan’s wagering tax is 8.1 percent.
Bush said Michigan’s share of the adjusted gross revenue made from the casinos is 45 percent, all going to the state’s education fund. The Detroit casinos are some of the largest employers in the city, employing between 8,000 and 9,000 workers.
According to the MGCB’s 2011 Detroit Casinos Revenue spreadsheet, Detroit’s casinos had a total adjusted gross receipt of $1.4 billion in 2011.
Hollywood Casino Toledo, located on a 44-acre site on the banks of the Maumee River five minutes south of Downtown Toledo, could draw up to 2.8 million visitors per year, according to Penn National Gaming, which operates the site.
Some of the casino employees refer to the property as “Ross-Vegas,” a nod to the casino’s proximity to Rossford.
Pat McGrady, president of the Rossford Business Association, said the group has been working closely with the casino.
“Through the last couple of years, our business association has kept an open mind with welcoming the casino,” McGrady said. “The casino has been a big part of our organization, joining it, being part of the meetings as they draw near to the opening day, making sure they give us information as partners and helping us transition.”
McGrady, who owns the Cold Stone Creamery/Blimpie location in Rossford, said many Rossford businesses are hoping to draw casino employees as well as out-of-town guests.
Holley Bockelman, who owns Bock’s Place with her father Bill Bockelman, said she thinks the casino will be good for business.
“I think it’s going to be great. The more people coming through Rossford the better,” Bockelman said. “I don’t think there’s anything negative about this whole thing.”
John Names, who owns Danny’s Cafe with his wife Vickie, said he isn’t expecting much of a change.
“We’re hoping for the best and ready for the worst,” Names said. “People will be coming for the casino so we don’t expect anything really, but we seem to attract out-of-town customers passing through so maybe we’ll pick up a few new faces.”
Larry Eilert, owner of Larry’s Auto Center, said he’s cautiously optimistic.
“I’m excited and hopeful. Hopefully it can give our town some new vigor and pick it up a little,” Eilert said. “This is all new, so you don’t know what to anticipate. You’re always a little apprehensive about what it’s going to draw, but I think in the long run it will make our town much more attractive and give us a little boost and bring all the other businesses up a little. I’m looking forward to it and I hope it will work.”
Rossford Schools Superintendent Bill McFarland said children’s safety is the focus of the school district.
“The amount of traffic and the possible criminal element it brings to town — those are the only concerns that have been raised,” McFarland said. “We’re only going to be in school for four days after it opens, so hopefully by the end of the summer, the mass of people going there will have leveled off a little bit.”
Rossford Police Chief Glenn Goss Sr. recently met with the school board to address concerns, particularly increased traffic expected on Glenwood Road near Indian Hills Elementary.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that walk, especially on Glenwood,” said McFarland, who said the district planned to post more crossing guards. “We’re going to do everything we can to protect our kids.”
Goss said he plans to increase the presence of law enforcement in the area.
“Like any department, you want to be proactive, not reactive,” Goss said. “We want to be prepared for what may be coming and not necessarily wait until it’s too late and wish we did something.”
Traffic and parking
Non-casino traffic will be rerouted south on Glenwood Road to Buck Road to I-75 to reduce congestion in the casino area, Goss said. Toledo Police will also reroute traffic.
The casino offers free parking for more than 3,000 vehicles, but two lots in Rossford have been designated for overflow parking if needed, Goss said. One is between Rossford United Methodist Church and Rossford Community Recreation Center on State Route 65. Another will be the Rossford High School parking lot after school hours.
The lots will be operated by Penta Career Center law enforcement students under the supervision of the Wood County Sheriff’s Office. Parking is $8, which will go to Penta, and shuttles to the casino will run every 20 to 30 minutes, Goss said.
For more information, visit the website www.hollywoodcasinotoledo.com.
Toledo Free Press Special Sections Editor Sarah Ottney and Toledo Free Press Staff Writer Brian Bohnert contributed to this article.