All In! : Night Shift

What's our 24-hour casino like long after dark? We visited at 3 a.m. on a Wednesday to find out.

I will neither confirm nor deny I have snuck over to the Horseshoe Casino during my lunch hour or ventured there on a Saturday night. And while both alleged experiences may suggest that the casino business model of "just say no to clocks" and "just say yes to neon" can work here, I wanted 24-hour proof.

So in the wee hours of a Wednesday morning, I enter to the bells and lights of the slot machines still doing their dance and hundreds of insomniacs who have sacrificed late-night TV for a more active sleeplessness experience. (Doesn't anyone watch pocket fisherman infomercials anymore?)

On the first floor, dozens of regular folks are wrapped around three craps tables, and a nice-sized crowd has gathered behind a blackjack table along the main walkway, watching a middle-aged man in a T-shirt and jeans bet $1,000 a hand.

I plop down at the penny slots next to a couple, Vanessa and Vaughn from Solon. Vaughn works until 11 p.m., and they came down after his shift. I ask how the gambling is going. Silent nods tell their tale of woe. "Maybe your luck will be better," Vaughn offers.

I take the escalator to the third-floor poker room and watch from the rail with a 20-something named Brian. Six of 30 or so tables are full. Brian works third shift, and on his off days, he sometimes heads to the casino around 2 a.m. to play poker. "That's when people are winding down, or maybe they've had a few drinks and I can use that to my advantage," he says.

Smart kid, Brian, but he says bad luck won out tonight.

Undaunted, I find a seat at a blackjack table next to Bob, a 40-ish fellow who has been there since 8 p.m. and has the droopy eyelids to prove it. I ask why he's still here. "Money," he says. Interesting, because I assumed most came for the buffet.

Twenty minutes later, I hit two straight blackjacks and leave $40 to the good. I look at my watch. It's the most money I had ever made between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. In the next five minutes, however, I lose $50 at the video poker machines. I hope Dan Gilbert appreciates my $3.40 contribution to Nick's college fund.

As I leave the building that never sleeps, I think about how Clevelanders have already fit this 24/7 entertainment venue into their lives, how once you walk through the doors, you're literally and figuratively off the clock. But mostly, I think about taking a nap.

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