Through gaming, not gambling, those who can't afford to go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City will get a taste of that lifestyle.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
LIBERTY -- Steve Roberts usually gets two questions when he explains the presence of blackjack tables and slot machines inside his new Casino Restaurant and Nightclub at 4255 Belmont Ave.
First question: Is this legal?
Yes, because no one will play for money, Roberts says. Slot machines will only take tokens, which will be available for free. The same goes for chips to use at card tables.
If a player leaves change from a waitress on the table, the dealer will stop the game until the money is put away, he said.
Roberts calls it gaming. Gambling is a dirty word in his establishment.
"Gambling is when you take a chance," he said.
Second question: If you can't win money, will anyone want to play?
"Oh yeah, sure, everybody will come because it's an atmosphere," Roberts said. Some people may want to learn how to play various card games.
Others who can't afford to go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City will get a taste of that lifestyle. Besides the games, there will be live music in the dining room and the lounge.
"We're going to give you a Las Vegas experience in this nightclub," Roberts said.
Here's the idea: It seems the only gamblers are Roberts and his partners in Hourglass Sand Corp., which is leasing the restaurant and lounge from owners of Belmont Inn and Suites (formerly Ramada Inn). There will be no cover charge, Roberts said. Food and beverages will be his sources of revenue.
"This is the nuttiest thing that anybody could do," Roberts said.
The lounge will open Friday. The restaurant is expected to open next week. The menu will feature Italian food and more, Roberts said.
Roberts, formerly of Niles and Warren, moved to Las Vegas in the late 1960s. He worked in every aspect of the casino business, from card dealer to manager, he said. He returned to Warren eight years ago to be with his parents, who have since died. He's also a barber.
Roberts has wanted to open a club like this ever since he moved back here. There are many good restaurants, he said, but not enough places to spend an evening.
"I love entertainment. I was around it all my life," he said, leaning against the bar in the burgundy-hued dining room as workers continued a remodeling project.
Roberts hopes someday to offer cabaret-style shows in adjacent banquet rooms. For now, his focus is on games and music.
How this will work: The lounge will have five slot machines, some card tables, a stage and a dance floor. Five blackjack tables are centralized in the dining room. Card dealers will begin play at about 8 o'clock nightly, Roberts said.
Tickets, which will be available from bartenders, waitresses and other staff members, will be exchanged for tokens or chips. When a player has exhausted his or her supply, he or she must let someone else play for a while, Roberts said.
Customers may also learn to deal black jack, Roberts added.
Gambling has a notorious history in the Mahoning Valley. Roberts bristled at the mention of it. "But that's all dead now," he said.
Casino Restaurant and Nightclub will be watched by Liberty police. Interim Chief Ron Heineking said township zoning laws don't prohibit gaming since money will not be exchanged.
"I guess if they keep it that way, nothing can be done. ... We'll of course check on it occasionally," Heineking said.
Roberts said agents with Ohio Department of Liquor Control have also told him that they will be watching. That doesn't bother him.
"It's a facade, that's all it is," Roberts said between puffs of a cigarette. "It's a form of entertainment."