Cleveland’s coming casino–surely a frugal Bon Vivant should flinch?

11 Oct

Architect's rendering of the interior of Cleveland's Horseshoe Casino

Well, the upcoming Cleveland Horseshoe Casino is hiring in preparation for throwing its Public Square doors in “early 2012.” Though the main plans are for a casino behind Tower City, the prelude is limited in scope, occupying several floors of the old Higbees (then Dillards) department store. Slots will predominate, with some table games and a poker room. Jobs are said to be around 1500–nothing to sneeze at! Besides dealers and cashiers, there are drinks waitresses wandering through the casino (no, likely not “waitpeople”–these are usually women), cleaners to discreetly vacuum at 3 am or 6, food service folks, etc.  So many? Yep. Casinos normally don’t close, so the numbers account for several shifts.

Everyone's an emperor in Caesar's Atlantic City--there are no minions!

The Horseshoe is part of the Caesar’s/Harrah’s complex, but it’s not at the luxury end of the scale. The consortium owns a number of casinos in Atlantic City (Caesar’s, Bally’s, Showboat, Harrah’s) and Las Vegas (Caesar’s, Paris, Rio, and more), and those are upscale–and often deliciously vulgar. The lower end of things is designed for those with less of a snazz factor–like the Biloxi, MS one–on second thought, it looks fairly snazzy. The Cleveland one will be perfectly nice, no doubt, but ho-hum in comparison to giant Roman emperors or a cheerfully fake Eiffel Tower. In short, it’ll be like the fast food of casinos.

And here is where a Bon Vivant has her reservations. I like casinos. I’ve only been to Las Vegas once, but thought it was hilariously fun. Atlantic City? I’m from not that far away, and checked out the casinos when they first opened, visiting on the regular. Like to people watch? Oh, plenty to see. Not everyone likes the sights, and we don’t all interpret them the same way. A Tweeter I enjoy, @MildlyRelevant, hated a recent visit to Caesar’s Atlantic City, finding it depressing throughout. Depressing? Never! I stay there whenever the Total Rewards program sends me news of a free room for one or two nights (I am NOT a high roller or frequent habitue; they’re just generous). Last time I stayed there, my free room had a straight-on view of the beach and I was, as always, bemused by the small TV that is part of the bathroom mirror.  I don’t NEED news while I’m brushing my teeth, but I love knowing that I COULD–it’s the techie gadgeteer in me.  Caesar’s has a plethora of gelato flavors at a stand in the lobby, a great breakfast buffet, tasty cheesesteaks at the coffeeshop. @MildlyRelevant saw the elderly smoking and thought they were spending the little left from their fixed incomes on slot machines, and feels the casinos are trying to make customers drunk and snatch their last pennies.

How can anyone resist the over-the-top hilarity of a top-notch casino hotel?

There’s something about casinos that brings out the moralist in us–or some of us, anyway. And of course there are people in casinos who spend money they can’t afford. But…those that live in ill-encouraged hope will buy lottery tickets if they don’t have a casino, or find some other vice. The elderly people in the casino? They don’t depress me–some of them are my parents! My parents are in their 90s; most of their friends are dead. My Dad still drives (don’t worry, he takes an eye test and doesn’t drive any differently than he did 30 years ago–besides, he’s in Pennsylvania), but my Mom doesn’t. Frequently they’re bored. They’re a little unsteady on their legs and of course wouldn’t think of a cane for steadying (sigh). So many of the things they used to enjoy are out–my Mom’s not going to stroll through a museum with nothing to hold onto; my Dad isn’t going to wander an arboretum. Even when we take them someplace–like my Mom to see her beloved Phillies –we have to consider handicapped parking, distance from the bathroom, elevator locations. They chafe at lessened independence, even though they capably still live at home and are generally healthy (thanks, God!). They can get to the casino; bus companies run regular trips to AC with discounted tickets. They stay for four or five hours, and back they go. There are charters, too. I took them on one run by a local church–a Catholic church (Is the tradition of bingo and card parties and church fetes with Wheels-of-Fortune the reason I don’t see gambling as an evil?); I was by far the youngest babe (I’m not that young). Everyone there was middle class, most in their 70s and up. They had a ball! The bus showed old Dean Martin shows, the folks that ran the trip gave out candy and snacks, and the folks cannily enjoyed the trip as their tastes dictated–some sat on the Boardwalk, most took the casino scrip (the trip ended up costing $2 each, with scrip refunds on the bus tickets) and spent only what they liked. They were paying penny slots, and playing like I do–like an adult at an arcade. You go with a set sum to spend for your entertainment, and if you win–great! But that’s not the expectation. The AC casinos depend on these repeat, small-time customers, and they’re considerate–there are slots with wheelchair room, and the aisles are wide; ramps aplenty. The elderly can enjoy themselves and feel in the thick of things, rather than invisible.

Gotta love pseudo-architecture! The Taj Mahal in Atlantic City

Casinos are full of the illusion of fun–that’s their business. There are usually no windows (and certainly no clocks)–they don’t want you to think of how much time is passing, and they want 7 am to be as glittery, as full of artificial noise and music as midnight. Casinos don’t necessarily equal desperation, and I’ve never seen anyone drunk in one (mind, I don’t spend time in the bars). Food is usually relatively cheap. On the casino floor, drinks are free, but you’re meant to tip a dollar or two for your Sprite or beer or weak cocktail. If you don’t, the waitress doesn’t forget. Cheaper casinos only make the rounds for beer and cocktails–there’s a self-service tap for soda and iced tea.

Ah! Monte Carlo--a beach of stones, but you know movie-elegance

And here’s where the Bon Vivant feels there may be a problem. I’ve been in the Monte Carlo casino (at age 20 in a lovely evening gown, for that matter), and have enjoyed the Caesar’s choices–Italian restaurant? Chinese? Steak house? But on a recent Pittsburgh trip I went to their Rivers Casino. Nice enough, but cut rate: a very high-end restaurant, a buffet (standard; but the Bon Vivant finds it a waste–food is often cold, or consists of cheap cuts, or is dried out. I like service! And the Rivers had only counter service for its pizzeria and ice cream parlor. Boo! These ominous words are on the Cleveland Horseshoe website:”Horseshoe Cleveland will offer several dining options, including a 400 seat buffet, a 3-outlet food court and a feature bar.” What! A 400-seat buffet means serious eaters elbowing you out of the way as you balance your dishes. Food court? Not very special occasion-like. And that’s it for the moment–if fine dining options are ahead, they’re meant for the final incarnation, not the initial one.

Doesn't anyone think Clevelanders would enjoy some dash on the Borgata casino level?

The Borgata in Atlantic City has chandeliers by Dale Chihuly; the Bellagio in Las Vegas has an art museum with a very respectable collection. And the malls attached to the casinos have Disney-like facades and produce giggles with their gondolas, talking sculptures, and fabulous over-the-top lighting. Why am I thinking we’re going to have curly lightbulbs and practical rugs?

You can be frugal in a casino by saying to yourself, “How many hours of fun video-like games on slots can I have?” I can usually make 3 hours on a $20 bill; bet all the lines on a penny machine, but stick to machines with a maximum of 20 to 30 lines, one penny on each. Thrift extends to the Total Rewards program–get a card on your first visit, and you’ll get emails and flyers with discounts to Las Vegas and Atlantic City venues. Hotels can be cheap or comped, and they’re nice hotels. Maybe that’s Cleveland’s problem–no hotel for the casino. Food, as said, is fairly cheap.

But being a Bon Vivant with your drink in a plastic cup–that’s where things get iffy. False glamour should at least be glamourous!

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