The scope of the proposed gambling casinos that 10 different groups outlined for state regulators this week is much larger than what was proposed when riverboat gambling was first legalized in Iowa 16 years ago. That 1989 law put restrictions on not only the size of the gambling floor, but on how much someone could bet and how much they could lose in a day. The limits were five-dollar wagers and no more than a two-hundred dollar loss in a 24 hour period, and no gambling was allowed while the boat was docked. Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission administrator Jack Ketterer says those limits effectively restricted the amount of capitol investment in Iowa’s original riverboat casinos. The legislature erased those wagering and size restrictions in 1994. And changes made last year mean that a “floating casino” can be stationary and does not have to cruise around on the water. Some of the groups that’re vying for new casino licenses in Iowa are proposing expansive projects that feature restaurants, retail shops, theaters, and hotels. One even proposes a championship golf course, another hopes to add a bowling alley. Ketterer says those kind of non-gambling assets are part of the evolution of the industry. “Initially, no one else had riverboat gambling except Iowa and so that was kind of the attraction. Now, there’s gambling just about everywhere. There’s only a couple of states that don’t have it and so in order to attract patrons from really outside just a very modest area, maybe 25 miles, if you want to extend your market area, you have to have more attractions and more amenities than just gambling,” Ketterer says. Today, there are 10 “riverboat” casinos in Iowa, three racetracks and three Native American casinos.
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