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GAMBLING:  House doesn’t always win

Gambling revenue off at casinos near Riverside

Gregg Hennigan

The Gazette

October 11, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

  Riverside’s new casino appears to have cut into the business of its two closest competitors, state gaming numbers show, and other Eastern Iowa casinos are upgrading facilities to deal with the increased competition.

  Isle of Capri-Bettendorf earned nearly $1.1 million less — down 12.7 percent — in September compared with September 2005, Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission figures released this week show.

  Its attendance was 27,608 lower last month than in September 2005.

  In those same months, Rhythm City Casino in Davenport saw its gaming revenue drop by about $455,000, or 7.1 percent, and its attendance decrease by 15,303.

  Both casinos also reported losses in gaming revenue and attendance from August to September, even though August had an extra day.

  Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, 15 miles south of Iowa City and about an hour’s drive from the Quad Cities, took in $7.4 million in gaming revenue from 122,655 patrons in September, its first full month of operation.

  Riverside casino Chief Executive Officer Dan Kehl said studies his ownership group conducted before the casino opened Aug. 31 showed the casino needed to attract Cedar Rapids and Iowa City gamblers who went to the Quad Cities, plus a few heading to Dubuque.

  ‘‘Hopefully, those people are coming to us now,’’ Kehl said.

  Officials from the Davenport and Bettendorf casinos and Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., which owns both casinos, did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

  Overall, four of the seven other state-licensed casinos in Eastern Iowa earned less in gaming revenue last month compared with September 2005, while two reported increases.

  The other venue, Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino, did not have table games in September 2005 and, therefore, its numbers last month were not comparable.

  As planning and construction proceeded in Riverside the past two years, Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque concentrated on growing its market out of state, said Carrie Tedore, the casino’s director of public relations.

  ‘‘We know that most of our opportunities lie in Wisconsin and Illinois,’’ she said.

  Diamond Jo Casino announced plans last month to build a new $50 million casino in Dubuque.

  Jack Ketterer, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which oversees 16 Iowa casinos now operating, said it is too early to determine Riverside’s longterm effect on other casinos. But he expects Riverside to draw gamblers from the Quad Cities’ casinos.

  He said he thinks Riverside will mostly affect the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel, about 85 miles away near Tama, which does not report to the commission.

  That casino’s general manager, Dan Stromer, said Tama’s numbers have stayed strong compared with a year ago. Stromer declined to provide specifics.

  He said the casino finished the first part of a $111 million expansion in July and expects the finished project next spring to remain competitive with Riverside and a casino opening in Waterloo next year.

  ‘‘We expect to grow,’’ Stromer said. ‘‘ I don’t think we expected to spend $ 111 million to remain steady.’’

  Kehl said he was happy with Riverside Casino & Golf Resort’s first full month of business. Before it opened, casino officials projected 1.6 million visitors and $83 million in gaming revenue in its first year. To meet those goals, it must average more than $6.9 million in gaming revenue and 133,333 visitors per month.

  Kehl said he was not concerned about the casino attracting fewer than 123,000 people in its opening month because it earned $7.4 million. Each casino visitor lost an average of $61 per visit, compared with an average of $55 for the 16 casinos reporting to the gaming commission.

  ‘‘The revenue numbers are the driving factor,’’ he said. ‘‘Those are the ones that pay the rent.’’