Riverboat Gambling Gathers Steam
Las Vegas casino operators, in a controversial plan, may soon enter the gaming business along the Mississippi. GAMBLING FOR REVENUE
SOME states along the Mississippi River, pressed by high unemployment and a sluggish economy, are grasping for a floating straw: riverboat gambling.In Mississippi, Louisiana, and Illinois, several big-time Las Vegas operators are planning to enter the arena. According to Royal Walker, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Board, Andy Tompkins of Lady Luck Casino in Nevada has applied for a license to dock a boat on the historic Natchez waterfront. Five Mississippi counties have voted for riverboat gambling and five against by referendum vote. The bulk of the tax revenues received from riverboat gambling in Mississippi will go to the state. Mr. Walker also received a license application from Riverboat Corporation of Mississippi, which will be 80 percent owned by Steamboat Development Corporation of Iowa, a company that last summer launched the Diamond Lady and the Emerald Lady, two of Iowa's 19th-century-replica paddlewheel gaming boats. "Our big distinction is that we do allow dockside gaming year round," Walker says. "You don't have to purchase those big motors and big paddlewheels," he points out. "Also, you don't have the fuel cost, the big crew, or as much maintenance as on the cruising boats." In Louisiana about 10 Las Vegas casinos have expressed an interest in entering the riverboat gambling market, says Lt. Joseph Booth, head of the Riverboat Gaming Section of the Louisiana State Police, who declined to name the companies. The majority of these are interested in the New Orleans market. "Frankly, the Las Vegas crowd is now starting to take the riverboat gaming seriously now that it has moved out of the corn fields and into a state whose largest city, New Orleans, is one of the favorite tourist and convention spots in the country," writes Larry Pearson, in the latest issue of International Gaming and Wagering Business magazine. Paddlewheel steamers that cruise out from the New Orleans ports will not be converted to gambling boats, since Louisiana's new riverboat gambling law requires that all gaming boats must be of new construction. Lt. Booth says he does not expect the boats to be on the water until late 1993.Skip to next paragraph
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Delta Queen abstains "No slot machine will ever cross the threshold of either of these two boats," says Patrick Fahey, president of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, speaking of his four-deck Delta Queen and the seven-deck, 382-foot Mississippi Queen, which churn the waters with their large red paddlewheels from New Orleans to Minneapolis/St. Paul. "Steamboating is steamboating, riverboat gambling is riverboat gambling," Mr. Fahey says. In Illinois, another state where there is no limit on the betting, the Gold Coast Casino of Las Vegas is looking into a deal with an excursion boat operator. Illinois has this fall launched the state's first gaming boat, the three-deck Alton Belle, owned by the Alton Riverboat Gambling Partnership. Seventy-five percent of the 20 percent gross gaming-receipts tax on gaming boat proceeds, minus the operation expenses of the state gaming board, will go to the state for education. Twenty-five percent is to be allotted to the local jurisdiction. While states and state legislatures are turning to this new scenic gaming to bring in revenue (See Page 13 for column on the Florida lottery), onlookers are split between some who are glad that more tourists from around the world will come to enjoy the majesty of the great Mississippi, and others who are concerned that the river's untouched stretches of greenery or elegant bluffs may be encroached upon by a tawdry commercialism. "They are counting on riverboat gambling to save the state," says Jeri Hosmer, a member of a local citizens group who has worked to protect the scenic shoreline between Alton and Grafton in Illinois. "But we look at Atlantic City, and we think what gambling did to this city. It just ruined it," she says. Illinois will put another gambling boat on the river this fall, and in 1992 five more gaming boats are scheduled to be launched on state waters, according to Jim Nelson of the Illinois Gaming Board. "We've been moving at a blinding pace," he says. "The people of Illinois were sold the idea that if gambling is controlled by the state it is OK," says the Rev. Wayne Vinson, minister of the Evangel Assembly of God in Alton, Ill. "What happens is that illegal gambling explodes in a state where [it is] legalized. You create a mentality within people ... that gambling is OK ... if the states control it," says Mr. Vinson, who founded the Illinois Gambling Free Rivers organization. As riverboat companies gear up for river gaming in the states where gaming has been legalized, they are turning out replicas of early 19th-century paddlewheel boats. The boats carry the aura of romance and adventure of the first steamboats on the Hudson, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers, as well as the lure of riverboat gambling, which spread northward from New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.