COLUMBUS (AP) - Ohio regulators granted an operating license to a company slated to open the state's first casino, clearing a major hurdle before doors open in less than two weeks.
The state Casino Control Commission's decision allows Rock Ohio Caesars to open Horseshoe Casino Cleveland on May 14. The company must still host a controlled opening before then to allow members of the commission to see the casino in action before it officially opens. The controlled opening will be closed to the public and available only to invited guests.
The commission also granted a management license to Horseshoe Management Company LLC, a Cleveland-based company that has been retained to manage the Cleveland casino, as well as one scheduled to open next year in Cincinnati.
The commission's decision on an operating license follows its review of a lengthy report by a gambling consulting group on Rock Ohio Caesars' financial stability.
Spectrum Gaming Group's several hundred page report highlighted billions in debt by Caesars Entertainment Corporation, an internationally known gambling company with a 20 percent stake in Rock Ohio Caesars. It recommended the commission continue to monitor the company.
Spectrum ultimately recommended the commission grant Rock Ohio Caesars an operating license after its financial background of the company as a whole praised the financial health of Rock Ohio Ventures, which has an 80 percent stake in the company.
At a commission hearing in April following the report's release, company officials defended Caesars Entertainment Corporation's debt and its efforts to reduce it. They also answered questions about Daniel Gilbert, the company's majority owner and a majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The report questioned a $60,000 unsecured loan he personally made to former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2009.
Gilbert, who never faced criminal charges over the loan, called it poor judgment in hindsight.
Company officials at the hearing also testified about its ongoing plans for the casino, including local hiring practices and security measures. It will feature a 100,000-square-foot gambling floor with 2,100 slot machines, 63 table games and 30 poker tables. About 1,600 people will be employed to help run it.
Rock Ohio Caesars later released a statement applauding the commission's decision, and expressed confidence on its scheduled opening.
Four casinos are going up in Ohio following approval by voters in 2009. The $350 million Cleveland casino is the first expected to open. A second casino run by Rock Ohio Caesars is scheduled to open in Cincinnati next spring. Certain revenue from the casinos will be distributed to public school districts and various support programs, including problem gambling.
The Cincinnati development in the northeast corner of the city's center has had two construction accidents in the last six months, including a floor collapse in January that injured at least a dozen employees and a partial garage collapse in December. No one was injured.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday withdrew citations and fines for two construction companies and reduced fines for four others involved in the January collapse.
Penn National Gaming is scheduled to open its Toledo casino within a few weeks after Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, and its Hollywood Casino Columbus will open in the fall.
Spectrum presented a similar background report about Penn at the commission's meeting Wednesday. It included a presentation by Penn officials on its ongoing plans for the Toledo casino's opening. The commission plans to make a decision on Penn's operating license May 9.