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Riverside Casino Set to Open Early

Rachel Gallegos

Iowa City Press-Citizen

July 1, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, 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 Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

RIVERSIDE -- With construction crews at the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort ahead of schedule, the casino and hotel will open earlier than originally planned -- just in time for the Labor Day weekend and Hawkeye football.

The Aug. 31 opening will begin with a private showing in the evening for more than 2,000 investors and dignitaries, followed by the unveiling of the facility to the general public, chief executive officer Dan Kehl said.

"I think we will be bursting at the seams" on opening day, Kehl said.

The casino and hotel originally were scheduled to open Sept. 10. Now, it will open in time for people looking for ways to enjoy the Labor Day weekend as well as attracting fans coming into nearby Iowa City for the Hawkeyes' Sept. 2 season-opening football game.

"Ahead of schedule and on budget -- that's a good thing," he said.

Although earlier projections forecast the casino coming in under budget, the costs actually met the original $147 million expectation because the project grew in scope while equipment costs, such as computer systems, were higher than expected, Kehl said.

The entire grand opening weekend will feature live entertainment and celebrity appearances, although the details still need to be finalized.

"It's a whirlwind," Kehl said. "The last two years have been unbelievable."

Employees will start work in mid-August so the hotel and restaurants can go through test runs before opening to the general public. The casino and hotel will feature four dining areas:

a 60-seat steak and seafood restaurant.

a 240-seat buffet with "Comfort," "Asian" and "Italian" cooking stations.

a 40-seat coffee and ice cream parlor.

a 75-seat 24-hour diner.

Much of the work inside and out already is complete. Carpeting was installed in mid-June and the slot machines have been delivered. The main focus now is hiring, Kehl said.

As of Thursday, 107 of the 850 full- and part-time employees have been hired, not including dealers. Kehl said 57 dealers from other casinos have been hired.

The casino and hotel have received more than 4,000 applications, he added, with more expected during the July 7-9 job fair.

Since early May, the casino has been hosting a dealer school in a warehouse off Highway 22 in Riverside. Students learn one table game at a time -- blackjack, poker, craps or roulette -- attending class for a four-hour period Monday through Friday.

The casino will hire 250 dealers to work three shifts, with most at the casino during the evening, late evening and early morning hours and on the weekends, said marketing director Cheryl Good.

Although some of the top management was brought in from casinos in Clinton, Osceola and Fort Madison, the goal has been to hire as many local residents as possible, casino officials said.

"We'd really like to use our local talent," Good said. "We're getting a lot of nice candidates and resumes."

Even though hiring has begun, officials said they still are looking for more people.

"Dealing opens the door to a long casino career," Good said. "Most of them that we have now, this is totally new for them."

The single level casino will have about 58,000-square-feet of gaming space, with 24 blackjack tables, four craps tables, two roulette tables and the second largest poker room in the state with 14 tables. The Harrah's in Council Bluffs has 18, said Riverside poker room manager Doug Thelen.

The 18-hole golf course will open in June 2007, with tournaments as early as July.

"We want to give it ample time to grow in," Kehl said.

The Riverside Casino & Golf Resort was one of four casinos that received approval from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission in May 2005, after 52 percent of Washington County voters approved the gambling referendum in August 2004.

Mark Kleinmeyer, postmaster in Riverside, said although he was initially opposed to the casino, he supports it now.

"In the beginning, my concern was for the people who have been here all their lives," he said. But since building began, Kleinmeyer said he has seen positive effects.

"It's changed the town quite a bit," he said. "There's a lot of out-of-state people moving to Iowa," making his job more interesting, he added.

"Since its four miles out of town, I think that really helps," Kleinmeyer said.

Others, however, questioned if the casino -- located three miles east of the downtown region -- will draw attention and growth away from downtown.

"I don't think the casino could, I think poor management by the city could," said Mike Meinders, who owns M.C. Crafts and Woodworks with his wife, Carole.

"I probably won't see me out there gambling, but I'm looking forward to the entertainment -- the restaurants and the shows," said Meinders, a resident in Riverside for about 27 years.

Another benefit residents and business owners noted was the casino adding to the town's job base.

"I'm just glad there's going to be jobs around here," especially for older people or mothers who are looking for part-time jobs, said Brenda Mickle, owner of VintageVille. "I think it might be bringing back some people from here long ago."

As a business owner, Mickle said she has had people come into her store asking when the casino will open.

"There's a lot of interest from outside people," she said. "It's definitely going to increase traffic through town."