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Smooth Sailing So Far for Iowa’s Floating Casinos With PM-Riverboat Gambling

July 22, 1991

BETTENDORF, Iowa (AP) _ Iowa’s head start on riverboat gambling is paying off and more states are betting on the floating casinos.

Since the April 1 start of limited-stakes gambling on Iowa waterways, five riverboat casinos have attracted nearly 800,000 passengers who have spent more than $22 million, state gaming officials say. They are the nation’s only floating casinos.

During the second week of July, nearly 75,000 passengers gambled about $2.3 million aboard The Diamond Lady, The President, the Dubuque Casino Belle, Casino Belle II and the Emerald Lady.

That’s a 5.7 percent increase over the previous week and surpasses weekly projections of 62,263 riders and a $1.8 million take. The boats collectively have exceeded projected proceeds for 10 consecutive weeks.

″We’re lucky we were the first ones in the water,‴′ said L.C. ″Bud″ Pike, chairman of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. ″For starting out a new industry with as few glitches as we’ve had, I think it’s a miracle.

One recent evening aboard The Diamond Lady, cocktail waitresses and dealers dressed in antebellum costumes scurried among 655 passengers gambling at the green felt card tables, roulette wheels and banks of slot machines.

Diners enjoyed riverside views as strolling performers entertained.

″I could’ve gone to the horse track and lost money,″ Jean Hoffman of Rolling Meadows, Ill., said over clanging slot machines. ″But it’s worth the two-and-a-half hour drive to see what this is like,″

Harold Rusher of Hammond, Ind., smoked a cigarette, pulled the arm of the slot machine and said he would bring his friends next time.

″I like this,″ he said. ″You would, too, if you won $210 on the slot machine.″

Louisiana, Mississippi, and Illinois also have laws legalizing riverboat gambling and plan to take the plunge soon. Missouri voters will decide the issue in their state next year.

Officials in Bettendorf, Davenport and Dubuque - the first cities to launch the floating casinos - hope the new businesses will generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The cities were hit hard by the farm crisis of the 1980s with thousands of workers losing jobs at farm equipment factories.

Some local church leaders warned the riverboats could lead to theft, prostitution and compulsive gambling.

The Rev. Sam Vanderjagt of Newcomb Presbyterian Church said their opposition was drowned out by those who predicted riverboat gambling would give the communities an economic boost.

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