The State Racing and Gaming Commission today approved a shuffle of ownership, and expansion of operating hours for two riverboat casinos in eastern Iowa. The commission approved the sale of the Mississippi Belle Two riverboat to the owners of the new Wildrose casino in Emmetsberg.
The sale keeps the Belle under Iowa ownership, and Wildrose CEO Kevin Preston says they plan to move the boat inland. He says the primary goal in Clinton is to reinforce the value of the casino and to retain and expand the employment at the casino. Preston says the new facility in Clinton will allow them to make more money.
Preston says their first year projections show and increase in revenue from 27-million to 29-million dollars, with more than $1.5 million going to local charities, and 6.5 to the state. Preston says the facility will bring in dollars from across the border.
Preston says the Belle currently draws more than 450,000 visitors annually, with 74-percent coming from out of state and 66-percent of those coming from Illinois. Preston says they plan to refurbish the casino to draw in more gamblers. He says they’ll upgrade the slot machines, redesign the slot floor, upgrade the buffet, and gain some economies of scale by having two operations. Preston says they could have the changeover completed by late 2007.
The Racing and Gaming Commission also approved a change in the operating hours for the Catfish Ben casino. The casino had operated part of its time in Burlington and part in Fort Madison. Lawyer Larry Hoyer represents the casino, and says they want to serve both cities. He says rather than split the time, they want to operate 24 hours in both communities.
Hoyer says the boat would stay in Fort Madison, and there will be a new gambling area built in Burlington. Hoyer says there would be a new building with an “improved location and improved facility” in Burlington. Hoyer says there’ll be better parking, more restaurants and an events center.
The commission approved the change for Catfish Bend, but commission chair Diane Hamilton of Storm Lake says it’s not an expansion of gambling. She says it’s a different situation than if you have gambling in Waterloo and want to put another facility in Cedar Falls. Hamilton says they’ve never had gambling in Cedar Falls. Hamilton says both Burlington and Fort Madison have had gambling already, this just extends the hours they have gambling.
Hamilton says the Attorney General has told the commission they can allow Catfish Bend to operate both facilities under its gambling license. Hamilton was asked if other casinos could apply for satellite offices. Hamilton says, “They can apply, but I think by the code of Iowa, we will not be able to allow them to do that.”
The commission took the action at their meeting today in Johnston.