Public Square

Signs for the recently opened Horseshoe Casino Cleveland can be seen throughout downtown, including near the Moses Cleaveland statue on Public Square.

Philadelphia resident Alex Bender has been to that city’s SugarHouse Casino several times.

But on May 15, the 42-year-old Jewish former Clevelander – in town to visit his parents – paid his first visit to Horseshoe Casino Cleveland.

Bender was impressed, classifying the casino as an “A-1” establishment.

“This runs circles around the casino in Philadelphia,” he said. “I used to live in New Jersey, and I’d go to Atlantic City all the time. This reminds me of Atlantic City. (It’s) very posh.”

Horseshoe Casino Cleveland became the first full-service casino in Ohio when it opened its doors to the public the night of May 14.

An estimated 4,000 people lined up for hours to be the first to experience the casino, according to casino officials, and many were still gambling the next morning.

Lakewood resident Rick Ferrell, 54, said he saw a long line to enter the casino at 9 p.m. opening night, but instead of waiting, he decided to return later. When he arrived at the casino, located in the former Higbee’s Department Store building on Public Square, at 3:30 a.m., the atmosphere was exciting, he said.

“I think Ohio has been waiting such a long time to gamble legally, and it seemed to me people were falling over themselves to put money in the machines and gamble (in Ohio) for the first time in history,” he said. “Hats off to Dan Gilbert and his group for making Cleveland proud.”

Ferrell – who said his company River Burns Productions did door-to-door marketing for Issue 3 in 2009, the issue passed by Ohio voters to approve a constitutional amendment to allow gambling in the state – said he spent the morning playing no-limit Texas Hold ’Em.

“I just won a nice pot,” he said, smiling. “I’m happy with that.”

Strongsville resident Ryan Bond, 22, also arrived at the casino early the first morning, noting he “walked right in” at 2:30 a.m.

“The breakfast buffet is amazing,” he said. “For $10, you can’t do any better.”

Bond said the casino is “better than (he) expected” and that he spent most of his time playing poker and blackjack.

“I was down $700, but now I’m up $900,” he said.

Horseshoe Casino Cleveland also surpassed the expectations of 42-year-old Lakewood resident Ralph Capretta.

“I’ll be honest. At first, I wasn’t too excited about the casino coming. But it’s here, it was approved, and I think it’s going to work out better than I thought it would,” he said. “Every person I came across was really nice. I was surprised. I thought there’d be problems.”

Cleveland resident Randy Fierst, 65, said he rode the RTA Rapid from Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood with his wife and sister-in-law.

“We normally go to Seneca-Allegany (Casino & Hotel in Salamanaca, New York), which we’ll still frequent. You can smoke there, and they give you free drinks there,” he said while smoking a cigarette outside Cleveland’s casino. “But that’s an escape. (Cleveland) is a quick fix.”

Fierst said he feels Horseshoe Casino Cleveland is “nice” and “beats Presque Isle,” referring to the casino in Erie, Pennsylvania. Ultimately, he hopes the casino deals a winning hand to the city.

“I hope it turns into a big win,” he said. “Downtown needs it.”

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