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Cincinnati casino gearing up for opening next week

Amanda Lee Myers, Associated Press

A beverage server practices inside Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Cincinnati. The casino with a 100,000 foot gaming floor is set to open to the public Monday, March 4. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Cocktail servers in red bustiers and short, black skirts carried around cocktails, dealers practiced taking chips and doling out winnings, and slot machines chimed as the last of four voter-approved casinos in Ohio geared up Tuesday for its opening in less than a week.

Minus the gamblers, the $400 million Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati looked every bit like a fully functioning casino during a preview for members of the media.

"Bring the dice in! What are you waiting for?" yelled a supervisor at a craps table where dealers took turns pretending to gamble and testing themselves. They mimicked what a real craps table will be like, with clapping, cheers of "Woo hoo!" and plenty of shouting.

The workers also were preparing for a dry run of the sleek two-story, 400,000-square-foot casino on Wednesday, when about 30 agents with the Ohio Casino Control Commission will be on the lookout for problems big and small.

While the casino already has its gambling license, it must pass the commission's test on Wednesday in order to open to the public on Monday.

If all the issues are minor, the casino would get the go-ahead by the end of the week. If any major operational problems arise, the opening could be delayed.

"Think of it as a dress rehearsal," said Matt Schuler, executive director of the commission. "It's an opportunity for the casino and its employees to show they can do everything by the book — security, surveillance, all financial transactions, the movement of the money from the floor to the count room. We will watch everything."

Casinos in Cleveland, Toledo and Columbus all opened last year on time after their dry runs.

The invite-only dry run is for family, friends and business partners of the casino's staff, and is closed to members of the media and general public. They'll be gambling at the casino's 2,000 slot machines and 87 table games, with all proceeds going to charity.

The facility also includes a buffet, a VIP players' lounge with limits as high as $50,000 a hand, a World Series of Poker room, and three outward-facing restaurants, including singer Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and Bobby's Burger Palace by celebrity chef Bobby Flay.

Of Ohio's three other casinos, Cincinnati's is most similar to Cleveland's because both are in their city's downtowns and within easy walking distance of local attractions and hotels.

While Cleveland's casino is in a historic building, Cincinnati's was built from the ground up on what used to be a crumbling parking lot.

Ohio voters approved four casinos in 2009 after a statewide legalization campaign touted the immediate boost the casinos would give to Ohio's economy. The state collects 33 percent in taxes from the casinos, which is distributed to Ohio's schools, counties and cities.

So far, profits have fallen short of expectations.

Supporters had predicted the four casinos could earn just under $2 billion a year once they were all up and running, which would generate about $643 million in taxes for schools, counties and cities.

Since they opened, the casinos in Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus have earned just under $404 million through the end of January, generating about $133 million in taxes. Once all four are up and running, their yearly revenues are now expected to be just under $1 billion.

Schuler cited the economic climate and storefront gambling-style operations in the state known as Internet cafes.

Customers at more than 800 such cafes in the state pay for Internet time or phone cards and use them to bet points on computers loaded with games such as poker.

The state is unable to collect any money from those operations, and Ohio legislators are considering a bill that would regulate the industry.

Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati had been expected to generate $111 million in gambling tax revenue every year, but that figure is now expected to be closer to $75 million, according to the commission.

The casino is the latest in a string of major, transformative projects in downtown Cincinnati, including a $322 million, 41-story office tower that opened in 2011 and now monopolizes the city's skyline, a $600 million retail and residential development in the half-mile between the Bengals and Reds stadiums known as The Banks, and a new streetcar line slated to open in 2016.

In the nearby Over-the-Rhine historic district, dozens of shabby but beautiful buildings have been transformed into popular bars and restaurants, and the once crime-prone Washington Park underwent a $48 million overhaul to become one of the city's favorite spots for concerts, outdoor movie viewings and flea markets.


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