Thursday, December 13, 2012

This is Cincinnati, not Cin-Vegas


About three months from now, the Horseshoe Casino will open in downtown Cincinnati. The third of four casinos in the state, the Horseshoe will be bringing with it a sign reminiscent of the neon clad Las Vegas strip. However, this is Cincinnati, NOT Cin-Vegas.

- Cincinnati's Horseshoe Casino as seen while looking down Central Parkway.

In November 2009, voters elected to amend the state of Ohio's constitution to permit the construction of four casinos in the cities of Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati. Until this vote, casinos had been outlawed in the state. When Issue 3 passed, local and state governments saw an opportunity for increased revenues that the gambling sites would bring and construction quickly began.

- Cincinnati's Horseshoe Casino at the former Broadway Commons site nearing completion.

Cincinnati's is scheduled to open on March 4th, 2013, the third to open in the state. The vote to approve casinos in Ohio was historic and unique. Similar gambling measures had failed in 2006 and 2008. The 2009 vote actually amended the state constitution to permit Penn National Gambling to build and operate the four casinos, essentially granting them a monopoly. Casinos are only legal in Ohio at these four specific locations. Many voters viewed this as a necessary step to opening up full gambling legalization.

- The Horseshoe Casino's facade under construction.

At the time of the vote, I was still an Ohio resident before I moved right across the river for school. I voted in favor of Issue 3 and I still stand by that decision today.

I saw the casino as a chance to open up revenue and development not just in the state, but Cincinnati as well.


I'm not morally opposed to casinos in any way. If people want to gamble, I believe you have the right to spend your money how you'd like. I thought it was pointless and counter-productive when the "moral authority" opposed gambling in state law - when I could just go to the next state over and hop on a boat to play some blackjack.

Casino gambling is incredibly popular and brings in a lot of money. Not to mention, having the casino downtown would be even more reason for people to come to the city. It opens up the potential for new hotels to be developed, new restaurants and other nearby businesses. Downtown in 2009 was, and still is, continuing to prosper and grow. In my eyes, the casino is just another thing to add to that success - even if it's a place I'll rarely go to (gambling and Jimmy Buffett aren't at the top of my personal interests). I respect that other people enjoy it and I can see the benefit it brings.

If anything, it was finally doing something with that awful Broadway Commons parking lot. I would've preferred a new arena, but with no NHL or NBA team - that certainly wasn't happening anytime soon.

So the casino, I welcomed it!

- The site of the Horseshoe Casino before construction. 

Despite my support for the casino, I certainly had some reservations. I may not regularly attend casinos, but I do spend a lot of time in the Over-The-Rhine and Pendleton neighborhoods that the casino would border. These neighborhoods are artsy, packed with bars and events, and feature some of the most beautiful architecture in the city. I would've hated to see a terrible looking, shopping mall-esque casino border historic neighborhoods.

Thankfully, the casino that came ended up meshing with the city nicely.

I'm no urban planner or architect, but in the end I was happy with the design chosen for the casino. It's non-obtrusive on the skyline, low to the ground, has a beautiful glass facade and curves with the rest of the buildings on Central Parkway - which separates the neighborhoods and Central Business District.

- Historic neighborhood architecture on the left, the front entrance of the casino on the right.

I was even ok with the parking garage. I realized one had to be there, but I'd rather see a parking garage than a bunch of surface lots. I felt the garage worked well with the building and looked ok for what it was.

- The Horseshoe Casino's parking garage.

As construction progressed and the building rose up, I became more impressed as I passed it on my daily commute. The casino actually seemed to fit in well with the city. In the early days of construction, the casino officials had hosted a design charrette open to the public, asking for input on planning. How much of that input was listened to, I don't know, but I think the building turned out great.

Then the casino in Cleveland opened, completely renovating the formerly underutilized Higbee building. The end result was beautiful, fitting in nicely with Cleveland's downtown:

- Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland. Photograph via Flickr user Mike Waterhouse.

And then... things changed.

The Cincinnati casino brought forward the idea of erecting a large sign. Lit with LED's, the sign would be evoking the bright neon lights and colors of casino signs typically seen in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the nation. It would be of similar design to the other Horseshoe casinos in the country, with the exception of Cleveland.

At a hearing over the summer, the Cincinnati zoning board shot down the casino's request.

- Rendering of the sign the casino wishes to build.

But on Monday December 10th, 2012, a meeting of Cincinnati City Council's Budget and Finance Committee voted in favor of allowing the sign. The committee features all nine members of council and an official vote will take place at the full council meeting on December 14th, 2012. Given that all the members pledged support at the committee meeting, the vote on Friday will most likely pass unanimously.

- Rendering of the proposed sign.

In the past five years, Cincinnati City Council has done some great things. I like the direction most council members want to take the city (note that I said most council members). However, I don't understand the support for this awful looking sign.

Casino officials say it is needed to attract visitors from I-71 and I-471, but in a day of GPS and online directions, is anyone going to have trouble finding this place? Not to mention, the location is pretty convenient off of multiple highway exits and will undoubtedly have street signage directing visitors.

I've photographed the Cincinnati skyline a lot, especially with my ongoing 224 Views of Cincinnati project. Our skyline has a nice mix of architecture and non-obtrusive corporate branding on top of the skyscrapers. One of the best views of the skyline can be seen entering the city via I-71 South as you come around the hills and are presented with a wide view of just how large Downtown Cincinnati really is.

- If built, the proposed sign would be seen on the right side of this photograph.

Is a tacky, 80 ft. sign really needed?

This is Cincinnati, not Las Vegas. There's only one casino in this city and there will only be one for the foreseeable future. Why does our casino need a sign reminiscent of the Vegas strip?

- The lights of the Las Vegas strip. Photograph by Flickr user Fabio Miola.

Let's face it, this sign looks awful. 

Not only does it not fit with the Cincinnati Skyline and surrounding area, but it doesn't even fit in with the casino itself. It looks like something reserved for a suburban casino in the fields of Indiana. Speaking of which, this is how the 110ft. variety of the sign looks like in Hammond, Indiana outside of Chicago:
- Photograph via Flickr user Phatasmagoria.


Maybe a sign like this works well in the suburb of Hammond (it doesn't), but why would you build something like this in the middle of an urban environment?

How will it look when the lights start to go out?

- Hammond Indiana Horseshoe Casino sign.

Now granted, the Cincinnati sign will feature LED bulbs and I don't know if the one in Hammond does or not. Luckily, the sign will not be on the side facing the neighborhoods of Pendleton and OTR. As to how bright it will be, Channel 5 WLWT claims that:

"Developers assured city officials the LED illumination accentuates the sign's color without pushing out the light."


Officials also told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the pink and black design with four foot lettering...

"is special to Cincinnati – the first of its kind.”

You don't say! Maybe Skyline Chili will even alter their logo to reflect this one-of-a-kind amazing design:

- Altered Skyline Chili logo reflecting the addition of the Horseshoe Casino sign. 

I understand the need to advertise location, but is this ridiculous looking sign really the way to go about that?

It's not.

- Location of where the sign will go.

Frankly, this is a terrible idea.

- The sign's proximity to I-71. At 80 ft. tall, it will be clearly visible from the highway.

With all nine members of council already unanimously voicing support, this monstrosity looks to be a done deal. However, if you wish to give your opinion, go to the final council meeting which will feature the official binding vote at City Hall, 1:00 PM, December 14th, 2012. If you want to speak, make sure you get there early to register.

For the record, I still support the casino and think it will be a great asset to the city, but their sign certainly won't.

- The neighborhood of Pendleton across the parking lot from where the sign will be erected.

In a few years, if you ever forget where the casino is, may this sign be your guiding light to take your Grandma to play the slot machines.

- OTR and the casino.

Update | Oct. 21, 2017:
  • Sign was built. Looks awful. Not the worst thing to happen to Cincinnati, though. 


  1. Glad I'm not the only one who things that sign is a terrible, terrible idea. It ruins the initial skyline view you get coming down 71. Basically acting as a bug zapper for the hardcore gamblers. Like you, I'm for the casino and downtown development, but this sign makes it seem like the casino is now screaming for attention in a crowded room. Having never seen the Cleveland casino, from your picture, it looks absolutely beautiful. Reminds me of a casino you would see in Europe where the entire affair is more subtle and less ostentatious. Its unfortunate that the city feels this ugly sign is necessary.

    1. It might look nice from the outside but the interior of the Cleveland building is boring, and feels like they are trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. Low ceilings, thin rooms....nothing like Columbus which is amazing because it, like Cincinnati, is ground up new construction. The entire Columbus casino is one gigantic round room. Cleveland is also extremely hard to park at because of its City Center location. I welcome the sign as long as its not ultra bright like the digital billboards were when they first rolled them out.

    2. Couldn't agree more about the crowded room analogy. I'm ok with a sign and they'll have advertisements and branding on the garage and building itself, but this sign is just overall tack.

  2. I agree with you 100% in regards to the sign. This casino is a destination spot and as such everyone will have already entered its address into GPS. The sign is complete vanity and should have been required to adhere to existing codes.

    1. I agree. Wish they would've held up the zoning code.

  3. Sorry to disagree. I understand the concerns but don’t believe a Euro Casino would compete well in our region. A part of the appeal of the casino is excitement…a departure… show business. A Vegas style sign is not out of place along the highway and certainly makes a statement about the experience within. Billboards and other brightly lit signage are a part of an urban landscape.
    I truly love OTR and embrace its historical architecture and flavour and have been a booster and frequent visitor since the 60s. But OTR is an island unto itself. The entire city cannot and should not be turned over to a 19th century esthetic.
    Standing still in front of most structures will block out broader views. The fact that this sign will dominate certain vistas as cars speed past is not really significant. Were somebody to make ¾ circular trip down 71, across the Ft. Washington Way, then north up 75 a variety of urban environments would become visible; stadia, an arena, a vital business district, an new entertainment district, a beautiful riverfront, an impressive art-deco train terminal, and as is noted a significant casino.
    There are aspects of Cincinnati that I find aesthetically displeasing but I complain to my friends and then move on. I can’t believe that the sign is going to be anything but visually interesting to the vast majority of travelers.

    1. My issue is that the sign doesn't even seem to fit with the casino itself. It just doesn't seem unique meanwhile the casino itself is quite a unique building that blends well with the city.

  4. I just think they need a new design. Something a bit classier, maybe just a clear glass structure with fonts that are nicely chosen and forget the LED lights..they won't catch your eye but a classy sign that is a bit lower would.

    1. I think the existing branding and signage they're getting to put on the side of the building and parking garage will suffice. The sign is overkill.

  5. So much debate over a sign with little comment on the real travesty here, that parking garage. Ouch.

    1. Geesh better than giant, flat, open, ground-level parking.

  6. I enjoy the sign and i like flat parking more than garages because i'm broke.

  7. Calm down it's just a sign. Cincinnati brought a casino(!) to its city instead of trying to bring in new corporate tenants. It wants to be cosmo but has never known how to do so. So if it already has a casino, let the sign go up too.

    The Skyline logo alteration is silly.