Cashed Out

Local charities could lose big when the Horseshoe comes to town

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Scott and others aren't saying anything that Nautica's charities don't already know.

"We're guessing this will be the end of it," says Andrea Sheppa, president of the Bay Village Band Boosters. In two short days of dealing cards, her club collected more than $20,000 — dough that bought the Bay marching band its first new uniforms in 23 years.

"I find it surprising that they believe it can continue," says Midpark AD Bob Johnson. But so far, that's exactly what the folks behind Charity Poker seem to believe.

For now, Jacobs expects its tournament to continue operating long after the lights go up at the Horseshoe. It's also invested in the space as if it doesn't plan to go anywhere.

"We're planning on keeping it open and running. Charities are scheduled through the full year," says Tim Knudsen, a Jacobs spokesman. "We just put in new carpeting and monitors recently. We're looking forward to serving charities this year and in coming years."

But a Plain Dealer interview last summer with Jacobs Investments VP Dave Grunwalde yielded a more guarded outlook. "We expect the casino will reduce revenues for the charities," he said. "Our plan is continue to operate as long as it's feasible."

The Jacobs group says that as long as charities are scheduled, business will proceed as normal. If the steady stream of nonprofits slows to a trickle, then decisions will have to be made.

"A lot of this is up to the charities and what they want to do," says Paul Ertel, general manager at Jacobs. "You have to be determined, and you have to wait and see what the reaction of the players is once the casino opens."

With the aquarium just a stone's throw away and Scott Wolstein's East Bank project on the rise, a possible re-rebirth of the Flats is still premature, as is any hard data on whether those new visitors will also find their way to poker games.

"The aquarium's only been open a month. We're still waiting to see what kind of impact that has. We're waiting to see how things unfold," says Ertel. "There's a lot of proactive things going on down here right now. We just hope to continue to have a positive effect on the Flats and Cleveland as best we can, and continue doing the work for the charities — that's what it's all about for us."

When does Nautica cut the cord?

"Whenever the charities decide it's not worth their effort."

Organizers like Sheppa aren't sure how long that might take.

"You have to pay the expenses no matter what," she says. "The trash, police, employees, janitor, electricity — it all added up to about $3,500."

Charities will be staring at the prospect of that hefty tab, plus the uncertainty of the regular influx of gamblers just to cover those costs, let alone nudge the night's ledger into the black.

"It's risky work," she says.


Mike Ludwig is understandably doubtful about the future of Nautica. His nonprofit group, the Chagrin Dads Club, which benefits Chagrin Falls schools, is scheduled to run a tournament in March. It's their biggest fund-raiser of the year, and he knows it will probably be their last ride on the poker express.

"Last year we raised $35,000 in four days. That's about 50 percent of what we raised in the entire year," says Ludwig. "We fixed playgrounds that would have gone unfixed, purchased supplies the schools can't because they're always under budget constraints. The money funds critical components to fill holes that would otherwise not get filled.

"This year, we were hoping to get the band new uniforms. It's been over 20 years," he says. "And even for a small school like Chagrin Falls, that costs over $45,000. How many cookies do you have to sell to make that?"

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