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Riverside casino ready to roll today

Rachel Gallegos

Iowa City Press-Citizen

August 31, 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.]

After 13 months of construction, the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort is ready to open to the public today.

But the casino will first be made available to the investors and other VIPs who get to play table games and slot machines beginning at 5:30 p.m., or 30 minutes after the grand opening celebration.

Then, at 9 p.m., the $140 million facility 14 miles south of Iowa City is open to everyone else.

Guests to the 201-room hotel can start checking in at 1 p.m.

"I'm excited -- can't hardly stand it," chief executive officer Dan Kehl said Tuesday at the sneak preview for area residents.

"It's been so much fun the past two years," he said. "I'm ready for it to be open. I'm ready to show everybody."

Officials estimate 1.6 million people a year will visit the casino and resort. It is staffed by between 900 and 950 employees, about 45 percent of whom are from Washington County.

They expect more than 1,000 people at today's grand opening program in the Event Center.

But there is a push to get things done on time. Staff worked until 2 a.m. Monday before coming back five hours later. The carpet in the boutique was put in Monday night and two employees worked all night to have the clothing displays up and ready by Tuesday, Kehl said.

People who came Tuesday for a public tour said they were impressed by what they saw.

"It's so awesome for Iowa. It's like a place you see in Las Vegas," said Mary Lee Kempf, who was on the tour. "It's a place to come spend an evening. You can come here and find something to do."

Although the casino and resort has the style of a Las Vegas facility, the restaurants still meet the client base.

"It looks like the prices of the restaurants are real reasonable," Kempf said. "I thought they'd be real expensive."

Free entertainment will perform six days a week on the Show Lounge stage in the casino. Other acts, including "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno are scheduled for the Event Center stage.

Employees also have expressed their excitement about today's opening.

"It was a long summer, but hopefully, it will be worth it," craps dealer Dave Jakubowsky of Cedar Rapids said, referring to weeks of dealer school.

"I think we're all pretty excited; a little nervous, of course," he said.

Joyce Patton, who is a member of the Board of Directors along with her husband, Glenn, said she loves the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort project.

Residents of Iowa City for 31 years, Patton said she has come to check up on the construction progress frequently since the work began.

She said her whole family will be at the resort today and will spend the night in the hotel.

Last Thursday, she visited the resort and ate at Ruthie's Steak & Seafood.

"It was wonderful. A real treat," she said.

Although she hasn't been much of a casino fan in the past, the Riverside Casino & Resort changed her mind.

"I think this place is spectacular," she said.