JACK Cleveland Casino celebrated the grand opening of its sleek, remodeled poker room April 1-3 with a weekend of giveaways and a poker tournament hosted by PokerGo host Veronica Brill.
The new poker room offers 26 tables and a dedicated lobby and reception area for players awaiting seating. The 6,400-square-foot space is located on the casino’s second floor, designed with warm woods and light marble accentuated by blue hues.
It has better lighting and a smoother layout than the old room, which was somewhat isolated on the casino’s third floor. The new poker room is adjacent to a buzzing table game area, and 10 baccarat tables sit just outside the entrance. Large TVs adorn every wall, and the 26 tables consistently offer games ranging from $1/$3 and $5/$10 no-limit hold’em to limit games and Omaha.
The new space was packed all weekend leading up to a $150,000 guaranteed tournament on April 3. JACK awarded over $75,000 in additional prizes over the weekend.
“Our grand opening weekend was a major success for not only JACK but our poker community,” said Chris Lose, JACK Cleveland poker room manager. “Hosting an event at this caliber, we were able to achieve something that hasn’t been done in our area before: We saw players come in from all over to play in our room and overwhelmingly had a great time. We were honored to have the lovely Veronica Brill from Poker After Dark host the weekend, which added another exciting element to the event for our poker community while showcasing the amazing space. We are confident that the success of this weekend put our community on the national stage in poker.”
Renovations sped up by an act of God
One of four casinos in Ohio, JACK executives had been considering upgrading the poker experience for some time. When a burst pipe last fall flooded the old poker room, it offered the perfect chance to undertake a bigger renovation.
“There were always plans to move the poker room,” said Tony Carolo, JACK Cleveland vice president of table games. “This was maybe an act of God, who knows, that moved our decision up a little quicker than we thought.”
The new poker room is easy to find among the busy table game area. Poker players previously filed through a maze of slot machines and escalators on their way to the third-floor poker room. They’ve also made the cash-out process easier and included a cage in the room for registering tournament players.
The old poker room was quite popular with regulars. Plus, the casino is within walking distance of Progressive Field, Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse and the city’s bustling Playhouse Square broadway district. But upgrading the room allows JACK to better serve its regulars while looking ahead to hosting bigger events in the future.
“The poker community in this area is so large that we owed it to give them space where everybody else was,” said Amanda Felice, JACK table games shift manager.
Modern poker in an historic building
JACK Cleveland is unique among Ohio casinos. It is located within the 12-floor Higbee Company building with access from the city’s Tower City retail center. The popularity of the casino’s poker room and growth of the game had execs itching to better present their poker offerings.
The cash-out process is easier for poker players now. The quick access to table games allows them to feel less separated from the rest of the casino. JACK offers eight-handed cash games, compared to nine-handed tables where players can feel cramped.
“Most rooms are nine-handed,” said Carolo. “The players here love playing eight-handed — it’s a little bit quicker of a game, and that’s what poker players want. They want more hands. Not only does the house make more money, but the players make more, too. I think our sweet spot is eight-handed for cash games right now. I’m not sure if that’s ever going to go to nine.”
JACK Cleveland Casino offers something no other casino does: The exact space where Ralphie first spotted his Red Ryder BB gun in “A Christmas Story” (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”). Cursive “H” insignias on handrails and original brass fixtures offer guests a glimpse of the building’s past. Higbee’s was the last department store to close in downtown Cleveland.
Staff continue the tradition of decorating the display windows on Ontario Avenue during the holidays.
“While it’s old and sometimes it can be difficult to operate an actual functioning casino within the building, it also has a lot of history to the city,” said Aleksandra Breault, JACK Casino Cleveland director of public relations and communications. “We strive to keep that connection with the city and the history and the community. It is such an important building.”
Brill gives JACK Cleveland her stamp of approval
Brill partook in the grand opening festivities, hosting events throughout the weekend. This included the $150,000 guaranteed mystery bounty tournament on Sunday.
She said she couldn’t have been more warmly welcomed.
“The best part about this poker room and what I look for in a poker room is poker staff and management who understand what poker players need,” Brill said. “And Chris (Lose) is doing an excellent job trying to bring poker up to date in Cleveland. He’s thinking about a live stream. He wants vloggers in the game. He knows what the players want.”
Brill said she appreciates the small-town feel of the Cleveland poker scene.
“The great things about these kinds of poker rooms,” Brill said, “is that although Cleveland is a big city, it still feels like a small-town poker room. It has this warmth to it — people know each other. They’re here to have fun.”
JACK Cleveland to host bigger events
JACK Cleveland will welcome a Mid-States Poker Tour event on May 5-8. The $500,000 guarantee event is expected to draw 750 to 1,000 players. With that in mind, the prize pool could push closer to $750,000. That will be the first big test for the newest poker room among Ohio retail casinos.
“There’s no concern about draw here,” Felice said. “You can see it in one night — the draw to this area the poker community is huge. I don’t think there has ever been a time where we put out some sort of big guarantee that we haven’t hit it and way exceeded it. So there are no issues about drawing for some sort of big event.”
The casino’s third floor is currently being used for marketing events and promotional giveaways. It could be utilized to add capacity for events like the World Poker Tour in the future.
JACK Cleveland preparing for Ohio sports betting launch
Ohio legalized retail sports betting last fall, and the state’s sportsbooks will be up and running by Jan. 1, 2023. JACK already has the location of its sportsbook picked out. The sprawling first-floor area will include a video poker bar, TVs, a table game pit, betting stations and kiosks. JACK Cleveland recently launched a free to play sports betting app called betJACK.