Return to Nicholas Johnson's Iowa Rain Forest ("Earthpark") Web Site
to Nicholas Johnson's Blog, FromDC2Iowa
Shuffle Up and Play
After two votes and millions of dollars in construction, the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort is ready to deal
Iowa City Press-Citizen
(special eight-page casino supplement)
August 28, 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.]
This Web site contains, on one site, 10 of the journalistic pieces that appeared in th Press-Citizen's August 28, 2006, casino supplement, much of which -- including a two-page spread of the facility's layout, and instructions on how to gamble when playing Texas Hold 'Em, Craps, Slot Machines, Roulette, and Blackjack, seemed to be promoting gambling in general and this gambling casino in particular. The two features apparently still not available from the Press-Citizen's online service are "Meet the main players in the Riverside Casino and the debate," and "Timeline of events for the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort."
Links to the 10 Stories Reproduced Here
Rachel Gallegos, I can shuffle, but can I deal?
Rachel Gallegos, Course on par for 2007 opening
Rachel Gallegos, Experts worry about addictions
Rachel Gallegos, Can Riverside compete?
Brian Morelli, Towns looking out for their own boom
Brian Morelli, Student addiction not a big worry
Brian Morelli, Marquette mostly happy with casino
Rachel Gallegos, Laying down the law inside and outside the casino
Rachel Gallegos, Casino a long time in the making
Press-Citizen Staff, So what is the casino and resort all about?
And see also a report on the pre-opening tours August 29, reported in Rachel Gallegos, "Residents get casino sneak preview; Riverside Casino & Golf Resort opens at 9 p.m. Thursday," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 30, 2006.
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
In some ways, dealer school is just like going to school. Except there are no desks. But there are decks -- of cards. There are tables -- blackjack and poker ones.
Here, raising your hand won't help. Instead your poker hand of cards should be kept on the table. Private. For your eyes only.
Welcome to the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort dealer training school. People have come here the past few months to learn how to deal poker, blackjack, craps and roulette in preparation for the casino's grand opening Thursday.
The dealer training school is actually a warehouse off Highway 22 not far from the Riverside Travel Mart. I went into this knowing it wouldn't be easy. Sure, I'd played blackjack and poker before, even in a casino setting. I didn't think I would be completely clueless. I took years of math classes. I could add to 21.
But I only had one day -- four hours, actually -- to learn how to become a blackjack dealer.
Learning to deal begins with the basic task of shuffling. At the Riverside casino, the dealer lifts the corner closest to them while holding the cards at such an angle to make a deep V. This way, the shuffling is silent.
Even with all those variations to my normally sloppy shuffle, I did reasonably well, or so I was told. "That's not bad. We can get you a part-time job," said Jodee Radosevich, a shift manager who was one of the trainers.
Learning how to actually deal the cards came next.
When you're at a casino, sitting at a blackjack table and playing a few games while sipping a cool one, dealing looks easy. For me, it was not so easy. There were far too many things to consider.
For instance, I was so focused on the five players at the table -- their cards, their bets, how many chips to give them if they win -- that I completely forgot to deal to myself. More than once.
As the dealer, you have to keep playing. The dealer needs to have cards -- one card face up, the other face down -- so the players can judge whether or not they should "hit" or "stay." The goal is to get to 21 and not go over.As a courtesy, the dealers call out the numbers on the cards and add them up for the players when they have two -- or three, four or more cards once they start to hit.
So as I deal, I am adding in my head as fast as I can.
But Radosevich said that with a little practice and experience, dealers stop adding because they recognize card combinations and therefore know the totals.Since it was my first time, I didn't have that luxury.
Whether or not players win depends on the dealer's hand. Players are either paid or their money is whisked away.When the hand is over, the cards are swept up from right to left, with the dealer's cards last. Doing so makes it easy to show whose cards are whose if there are questions later.
Let's just say I didn't do that part so smoothly. I'm pretty sure that is one of the dealer skills that take a lot of practice. But my discouragement is quickly squelched.
"Anybody can do this with practice. The main thing is practice," Radosevich said.
And practice they do. Not only four hours a day, five days a week in class, but also at home. "I'm getting my ironing board out, like you said to do," Shelly Andre of Wellman tells Radosevich. An ironing board is the at-home version of the gaming table so a dealer can practice when they're not at dealer school.
Andre says she's a teacher and decided to use her summer months learning something new. "I think it'll just be fun and a good way to meet people. I'm a people person," she tells me.
The groups become close by going through weeks of classes together. It's a camaraderie thing.
At our table, the jokes and encouragement keep people calm and smiling during the first week of learning new skills.
Andre, for instance, brought in a postcard with a baby monkey whose hair is standing on end. The message on the postcard is, "I gotta learn to relax."
The postcard sits at the end of the table, within easy reach. Whenever there is a huff of frustration, somebody invariably grabs the postcard and holds it up, saying, "Look at the monkey!"
It brings on a deep breath and a smile. "You can tell from our table talk -- we're goofy," Andre said.
The playing cards we are working with at dealer school are thick and sometimes tough to push out of the shoe because they have gone through so many sweaty, nervous hands -- like my own. But in the casino, that won't be a problem. Every table uses new cards every day. The old cards have the corners cut off so they would be detected if someone tried to slide one in.
The students aren't paid to go through dealer school because they aren't hired by the casino yet. First they have to obtain a license from the state gaming commission to be a casino employee. The state Division of Criminal Investigation does background checks on all employees. They also must take a basic math test.
To be honest, it is hard to fail any of these classes. But if someone really tried for five or six weeks and didn't show any improvement, casino leaders would try to find that person another position in the casino or resort, Radosevich said.
That said, there are a lot of beginner's mistakes: miscounting cards, when to use the left and right hands, protecting the shoe, among others. My hand rarely stayed on the shoe. Good thing I wasn't dealing with players who were trying to cheat to win.
When a dealer decides they are good enough, they "audition" before the dealer school trainers in what is a final exam kind of atmosphere. After months of dealing and playing the games with each other, many of them will get their chance to do the real thing Thursday.
"They'll be so nervous and so wild," Radosevich said. "Everything that could go wrong will ... but it'll be so much fun."
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
Although the 18-hole golf course will not be part of the grand opening ceremony Thursday, it is a feature that will set it apart from the 18 existing casinos in the state.
The Five Oaks Golf Club, scheduled to open in June 2007, will start hosting tournaments as early as July, chief executive officer Dan Kehl said.
"To create a luxury destination resort, you've got to have destination features," Kehl said, explaining the reason why he wanted to incorporate a golf course at the Riverside location. "And Rees Jones is one of the top golf designers in the country, as far as I'm concerned."
The Montclair, N.J.-based Rees Jones Inc. has won numerous awards for its original design and redesign golf courses. Since 1974, Jones has designed more than 100 courses, including seven U.S. Open venues, five PGA courses and three Ryder Cup sites.
The Riverside course will be the first Jones-designed golf course in Iowa.
The Five Oaks Golf Club course uses more than 7,200 yards of high ground, low ground and Iowa River land surrounding the casino. All hotel visitors will have a view of the golf course from their room, casino officials said.
The resort also will include a golf clubhouse, pro shop and teaching and practice facilities.
"We thought if we just came in and put an application in just to plunk another casino down in the state of Iowa, that that wouldn't necessarily cut the mustard," Kehl said.
But there was one holdup in the golf course design.
Kehl and other casino and resort officials asked for Walnut Avenue, a gravel road with a handful of farmhouses, to be closed to build the golf course.
At the first vote on the issue in August 2005, the city council voted 5-0 against closing the road. But earlier this year, casino leaders came back to talk to the council again.
Riverside Mayor Bill Poch said he and other city officials were told Jones "didn't want to assign his name to a golf course with a gravel road going down the middle."
The casino also had more support from residents about the road closure, Poch said, causing the council members to change their minds and vote 4-1 March 13 in favor of closing the road.
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
Luckily for people addicted to gambling, Touch Play machines are gone, eliminating one temptation. But Thursday's opening of the new Riverside Casino & Golf Resort makes accessibility just that much easier, experts fear.
"Availability has always shown to be an issue," said Diane Kepros, who works with Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area gambling addicts.
"I feel certain that (the opening of the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort) will lead to increased problems," either by the number of problems escalating with current addicts or new people who might not have become addicts if there wasn't a casino nearby, Kepros said.
Iowa gamblers, their family members or friends can call 1-800-BETS OFF to get help. In fiscal year 2006, the hotline received more than 6,300 calls; 55 percent were men and 45 percent were women, Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nicole Peckumn said. In fiscal year 2005, there were 5,400 calls.
Gambling, Kepros said, "does affect the receptors in the brain, similar to drugs for someone who has a problem."
Eastern Iowa callers are referred to the Eastern Iowa Center for Problem Gambling Inc., based in Davenport with satellite services in Cedar Rapids and Clinton.
Gamblers can participate in individual, couple or family therapy, Kepros said. There are group programs that take place three times a week in Cedar Rapids.
Currently, there are no group meetings in Iowa City, but Kepros said she thinks that will change.
The group meetings are at 463 Northland Ave. N.E. in Cedar Rapids. There is nothing at the facility that says gambling.
"It's very private that way," she said.
All the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort dealers are taught during dealer school how to recognize compulsive gamblers, said Jodee Radosevich, a shift manager who was one of the trainers at dealer school. Some of the things they look out for are people who continue to increase their bets, even when losing, or start to cry.
"We want to make sure people spend only what they are able to spend," Radosevich said.
20 casinos will operate in Iowa by spring 2007
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
When the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort opens its doors Thursday, it will be the ninth casino within a two-hour drive of Iowa City.
It will be by far the closest -- the about 20 minute drive to Riverside from Iowa City is much shorter than the hour-long drive to Davenport or Bettendorf. And when the Isle of Capri-Waterloo opens in spring 2007, 10 casinos will be within a two-hour drive, matching the 10 others that are not.
But Riverside casino and resort owners said they aren't concerned about adding another casino to the pack. In fact, they feel their facility will blow the others out of the water.
"Hands down, our resort is going to raise the bar so much," chief executive officer Dan Kehl said. "I believe all the casinos in Iowa are going to have to really upgrade their facilities to match what we're doing."
With the casino, hotel, golf course, event center and spa, Kehl said he thinks the range of services makes the Riverside casino less like others in the state and more like resorts in Las Vegas.
Adding amenities is something casinos do to attract customers, similar to many new businesses that need to make themselves distinct, William Eadington said. Eadington is a professor of economics and director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Competition leads to better food, better prices, better architecture -- anything one casino can say they have better than another, Eadington said.
"The ultimate benefactor is the consumer," he said. "But it's at the price of the operator."
This is a risk Kehl realizes.
"What we tried to do was create an atmosphere where they can still have a great time gaming, but there are so many other things to do, with the spa and the golf course and the luxury hotel," Kehl said. "We'll probably take a little lower return on our investment because of the extra money that we're spending on these types of amenities, but it's going to give the customer a better product and, I think, more satisfaction."
Several southeastern Iowa residents said that, for them, the casino is not the main draw. Rather, they said it is the other facilities included with the resort.
"I'm not a gambler, so I will probably go one time to see what it's like," said Bob McAtee, a Keosauqua resident who stopped at Murphy's Bar & Grill in Riverside for lunch earlier this month.
"I may go to the golf course," he said. "It may draw me there, but the casino ain't going to draw me."
Ainsworth resident Kristen Anderson said that in the town of Washington, where she works, there is a lot of excitement about the casino opening.
"I think that it'll be great to have banquet facilities in the area," Anderson said.
Operators gamble big when starting a new casino in a state like Iowa because of the constraints from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, Eadington said.
"Because it's a constrained market ... you're always guessing at what that saturation would be," Eadington said. There's no way to really know there are too many casinos in the state until one goes bankrupt or when people can no longer justify investing in a new one, he added.
Because riverboats are where Iowa gaming began, most of the casinos are still on the river edge on both sides of the state.
The river location is two-fold. First, it simplifies attracting out-of-state customers from the state it borders. Second, it meets the Iowa law requiring the casino floor to be over water, something Riverside is doing by installing water bladders, or large bags of water, in the space under the casino floor.
But Kehl said he is not concerned about the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort failing to reach the out-of-state market.
"Obviously, our primary market is the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area ...," Kehl said. "But we're taking it out farther; we're pushing outside of Iowa, looking at the Kansas City, Chicago and Minneapolis markets. We're looking to fly customers in as well."
Kehl said the resort also is working to target corporate groups because the hotel, event center, golf course, spa and four dining options could work well for a two- to three-day business retreat.
With the numerous events at the university each week, "I think we've got a built-in out of state market coming to this region anyway," he said. With the proximity to Highway 218 and Interstate 80, "I think we're just as good as being on the border," Kehl said.
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
Mandy Yeggy recently launched Dinners D'fined in downtown Riverside, a new business that packages take-and-bake meals.
Yeggy hopes to catch some cross traffic from the nearby Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, which opens Thursday. The casino sits 1.5 miles east of Highway 218, while Riverside is two miles west of the highway. It remains unclear whether casino patrons will stop at places like Yeggy's or just pass on by, but she is optimistic.
"I am sure it will help us somewhat. We are hoping for some of the people coming through town to see us," Yeggy said. "Maybe some employees will call, and we can get their dinner ready for them to pick up on the way home from work."
There will be some direct impact from the Riverside casino. For example, the city of Riverside expects $1.7 million in taxes, Washington County will draw .5 percent of yearly gaming revenue or about $350,000, and each incorporated town in the county will pocket a portion of revenues based on their population. Casino officials project an estimated 1.6 million visitors each year and a staff of 900 to 950 employees. That could create a ripple effect for nearby businesses.
"We will see some impact from people moving into the area. We have a lower cost of living than Kalona or Riverside," Wellman Mayor Ryan Miller said.
Municipal leaders surrounding communities are aware of the potential bonanza and are considering how best to capitalize.
"I am sure Kalona will (get tourists). I don't foresee Wellman getting a lot of tourism, though we are trying to see how we can get in on that market," Miller said. "I do think (the casino) can be positive for the area. But we will wait and see for a year before we start making new plans."
Kalona, with its rich Amish culture, has always been a quaint destination town with real-life scenes of horse-drawn buggies.
"I could see them including Kalona in their tour while they are coming to visit the casino," mayor Jerry Kauffman said.
Kauffman, who said he hopes to net 10 percent of the casino's visitors, also foresees new jobs outside the casino, saying, "more people mean more jobs to serve those people."
Like Miller though, Kauffman has a wait-and-see attitude. He is not ready to allocate resources based on potential yet, but he will try to benefit from the casino.
"Whether I voted for it or not, it doesn't matter now," he said about the Aug. 31, 2004, countywide special election that approved legalized gambling. "It's here now. We are going to use it to our advantage."
Ed Raber, executive director of the Washington Economic Development Group, said having a large client nearby will benefit existing businesses. The demand, he said, could lead to the creation of new business and new jobs.
"What you will see in the Corridor, especially in Washington County, we will see them buy from local companies," Raber said.
The Riverside casino, as part of the Iowa Gaming Association, supports the Buy Iowa First program. Under the program, 16 of the state's casinos have pledged to employ Iowans and purchase products and goods made and grown in Iowa.
To the north, Johnson County officials said they expect some kind of financial bounce -- they're just not sure how much.
The casino will add to the list of attractions in the area, said Joe Raso, president of Iowa City Area Development Group, which could help lure new business. But it is only one piece of the puzzle.
"I don't know if any single attraction is going to drive people to come," Raso said. "The issue of quality of place is important, but it is not the most important. The cost of doing business in the area is most important."
Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau, doesn't foresee much of an impact, however.
"There could be people staying in this area when the golf course opens," he said. "Otherwise, I don't see any economic impact from this property."
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
When Kevin Stroud turned 18, the legal age for casino gambling in Minnesota, he went overboard. He patronized casinos two or three times a week for about four months.
"It was on the top of the list of things to do when I turned 18," said Stroud, a University of Iowa junior from Woodbury, Minn. "That one time you do win, you feel like you can keep doing it."
Stroud turned 21 this month, the legal age for casino gambling in Iowa. He expects to take a tamer approach when the new Riverside Casino & Golf Resort opens Thursday, anticipating one or two visits this semester. While Stroud says he has "been there and done that," he thinks some students could walk the same path he did when he turned 18.
"You win that first time and you're like, 'This is pretty easy,' so you keep going back," Stroud said. "(But) if you're smart about it, it is something fun to do."
With a casino now only 14 miles away, some wonder about the effect on UI students.
"I'll go," said grad student Tiffany Flowers, 21. "I have never been to a casino. I could go with some friends. It sounds adventurous. I probably won't go too much -- I'm a grad student. Money's tight, and school comes first."
Joanna Buchmeyer, 20, a UI junior from Rock Island, Ill., has been to casinos in other states.
"I would use it," she said. "When I turn 21, I would definitely go. It's different. It is always fun to throw money away on something dumb. But I wouldn't be a regular."
UI spokesman Steve Parrott said he does not expect the casino to be a big draw for students.
"From our perspective, I don't really see it as a big issue because there are already so many opportunities for students to gamble online," he said. "We are more concerned about downtown and alcohol consumption."
Currently, UI has a no gambling policy in the residence halls and very few violations, associate dean of students Thomas Baker said.
"We don't see many discipline problems related to gambling," Baker said. "I am not necessarily pleased that there is a new casino going in, but we haven't taken any measures to review or revise university policies."
Some students said they have no interest in the new casino.
"I definitely wouldn't go to it," said UI junior Joy Hannah Frisbie, 21. "I wouldn't want to waste my money on it and get addicted or anything."
In random interviews with 15 students, none expected frequent casino visits or a potential gambling problem.
Those expectations are probably right, UI professor of psychiatry Donald Black said.
"Most people are going to be curious. They go in just to have fun. They don't expect to have a problem, and most don't," Black said.
Black has studied gambling for the past 10 years.
Problems begin at a young age and manifest over time, Black said. Overall, young people are at a greater risk of getting hooked.
"(Particularly young males) focus on the fun aspect, the social aspect and skill," Black said. "A number want to be a professional. They are going to make money as a way to pay their way through school."
Gambling on television has heightened interest, and with the Riverside casino so close, students maybe more motivated for the spontaneous trip than before. However, Black doesn't expect an increase in gambling problems.
"Gambling online is more dangerous," he said.
Area similar to Riverside in its size
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
Taxes, fees and contributions
in Marquette in 2005:
MARQUETTE -- Hoisted on stilts and sprouting from trees about 100 feet up a Mississippi River bluff, the Isle of Capri hotel has maxed out every night since Memorial Day.
At ground level, a three-deck, 19,000-square-foot riverboat casino floats idly in the river.
The Capri structures sit between the northeast Iowa sister cities of Marquette and McGregor.
Marquette, population 475, and McGregor, population 900, are 1.5 miles apart. Together, they might best foreshadow the effects of a casino's launch in a small town such as Riverside. In fact, when developers of the Riverside casino were looking for an area on which to model their venture, they came to this scenic region.
While Riverside begins its venture Thursday, gambling has been part of the Marquette-McGregor landscape for 10 years now. Overall, local feedback is mostly positive. Some opposition to gambling remains, but there is little evidence of the crime, bankruptcies and other societal ills predicted by opponents. Most locals praise the casino as a neighbor and business partner, and credit it with revitalizing the area.
"It's good for the whole area. It's a good employer -- for some, the best job they ever had," said area chamber of commerce president Connie Halvorson.
The casino opened in Dec-ember 1994 as the Miss Marquette, which remains the name of the vessel. Lady Luck took over briefly in 2000, before the Isle of Capri, which moved headquarters to St. Louis from Biloxi, Miss., bought the floating casino the same year. All operators have used the Clayton County gaming license held by the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corp.
"Before the boat, this place was a dump -- same with McGregor," said Paul Thompson, 45, of Marquette. "Traffic sometimes is a pain in the (expletive), but (the casino) is good for everything."
About 600,000 people pass through the casino gates annually, a drop of about 150,000 since the first year, according to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
Most patrons travel from a 100-mile radius in the tri-state region of northeast Iowa, southwest Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota. For the Riverside venture, developers expect customers to come from as far as 200 miles.
Competition is steeper today than when Miss Marquette opened in January 1994, when there were three riverboat casinos. Now, 12 years later, there are 15 licensed gambling operators. Four more, including the Riverside casino, will open before the close of 2006.
Still, Isle of Capri General Manager Barron Fuller contends that gaming growth is good for the industry, and revenue reports support his claim. In its first full year, the casino brought in $29 million. That has swelled to $42 million in fiscal 2006, records from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission show.
The drive to stay competitive, though, stirs thoughts of expansion, complementary development such as hotels and possibly a new location, Fuller said.
Capri is confined by its license to Clayton County but not to Marquette, and the possibility of the casino leaving has the now financially dependent town scurrying for options.
"Ultimately every operator is thinking about how to get off the river," Fuller said, referring to lower maintenance costs of land-based casinos such as Riverside. "Our question is, 'Do we grow in Marquette? Do we grow in a new facility?'"
A changing region
Like many river towns, McGregor and Marquette flourished as major railroad transfers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the towns suffered as the industry dwindled.
Terry Sharp, 68, is a retired Milwaukee Railroad worker and now chairs the Marquette Historical Society. He said the casino has helped lift the area back up.
"We depend a lot more on tourism now," he said. "People just learn to adapt to the changing times."
However, not all merchants say they have seen a boost in tourism. Sam Calabrese, owner of the Alexander Hotel in McGregor, said most visitors he sees follow the bridge across the Mississippi River to the town of Prairie Du Chien, Wis., population 6,000, and spend money at its restaurants, hotels and shops.
"It stops at the river. Prairie Du Chien gets most of the visitors," he said. "I get nothing from the boat. We will have guests that come because they love McGregor and will go to the boat because they see it as something to do. I don't see McGregor as thriving because of the boat."
Dave and Joan Martin, owners of the Marquette Café and Bar, and Deb Johnson, manager of Josie River Queen Restaurant and Bar in McGregor, disagree.
"Our business picks up when gamblers are in town," Johnson said.
Eugene Trudo, 77, was mayor of Marquette during the negotiating and opening phases of the casino. The town was poor at the time, he said, and had difficulty paying for basic utility repairs.
"We couldn't even dig up a sewer leak or fix a water leak," Trudo said. "If that boat didn't come in, Marquette would have very few people -- McGregor, too."
The influx of tax dollars from the casino, about $1.34 million annually, has quadrupled the Marquette budget to $3 million, and given the city a total face-lift.
The added revenue also has helped expansion. A new 160-acre subdivision with 69 lots and $200,000 homes will help a slowly blossoming population -- the town has added 55 people since the casino opened.
Mike Puksich, who was hired in 2006 as the first city manager, said his position would have never been created without the casino.
"We are getting accustomed to having that money. In a way, we are dependent on it," Puksich said.
The possibility of the casino relocating has Puksich assessing options.
"We want to work with them and make sure they stay in the city. They've been a good neighbor. They do a lot for the community. We want to find a place to keep them here," he said.
Marquette reaps the bulk of tax base revenue. But the other county towns as well as the county government benefit from the tourism, tax dollars and funding for non-profit programs the riverboat brings.
For 12 years until resigning in July, Norma Mason chaired the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corp., which is the nonprofit license holder for the Isle of Capri. The corporation nets 50 cents for every visitor to Capri and, per state mandate, distributes those funds to nonprofits in the county.
Receiving between 20 and 90 applications, the corporation disburses $100,000 to $200,000 on a semi-annual basis.
In Washington County, projections show Riverside Casino's license holder, Washington County Riverboat Foundation, will distribute about $3.3 million annually, or about 3.5 percent of gambling revenues to county nonprofit agencies, according to Riverside Casino & Golf Resort General Manager Joe Massa.
Expectations of crime, gambling addiction and broken banks have never materialized.
"There really hasn't been an increase in crime. (The only casino-related incidents) are the increase in traffic-related incidents," Mar-Mac Police Chief Randall Grady said.
However, there are still critics. Celeste Kruse, 49, lives in a small residential neighborhood near the casino. The casino is a waste of space, she said.
"That is the worst thing on the planet, and God will come knock that thing down some day," Kruse said. "I look at it and see what God shows me: a herd of sheep going in for the slaughter."
Dennis Gilbert, pastor of Living Faith United Methodist, counsels about 25 people per month. Fifteen percent of them have gambling-related problems, such as marital issues, large money losses and addiction.
"There were not necessarily a lot of situations, but the ones that were are substantial," he said.
Although Kruse and Gilbert oppose gambling, they acknowledge the absence of widespread problems and say there have been some positives.
Of the 400 employees aboard the Isle of Capri, 250 are Iowans, including about 180 from Clayton County. Not everybody is happy with what the boat is paying its people.
Cody Trentin, 21, of Marquette, works at 3M, an employer of 500 people in Prairie Du Chien.
"I thought about working at the casino," Trentin said. "I had a bunch of friends working there. Some quit, some have been fired. There is high turnover. The pay is not that great."
Capri paid $13 million for salaries and benefits in 2005. Hourly employees are averaging $11.60 in 2006, and many of them also receive tips, said senior marketing director Jackie Lee. State law requires casinos to pay 25 percent above minimum wage, or $6.44.
Although Riverside and Marquette-McGregor are miles apart geographically and in many other ways, there's no denying that the new venture in Riverside is likely to affect life just as much as the floating casino did when it first opened in northeast Iowa.
Trudo, the former Marquette mayor, said he is familiar with the stories about Riverside's new land-based casino, and he thinks it will be a positive for the community of about 925 people.
"(Riverside) needs it. You have to build your tax base," Trudo said. "It has been a big plus for the area."
DCI agents, casino security, sheriff's officers split tasks
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
To keep tabs on the goings-on in Iowa casinos, it requires more than one level of security.
Each casino hires its own security staff. But the state also assigns six to seven Gaming Enforcement Bureau agents from the Division of Criminal Investigation to work from each location. As one of the larger casinos in the state, the new Riverside Casino & Golf Resort will have seven when it opens Thursday.
By doing background investigations and enforcing gaming regulations and state law, the DCI works so "the integrity of the gaming in Iowa can be as high as it can be," said Eugene Meyer, director of the DCI, a division within the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
DCI agents have been in place in Iowa casinos since riverboat gambling began in 1991.
For all casinos, DCI agents do background investigations of employees as well as investigations of the companies that do business with casinos. Some of these investigations include traveling across the country and around the world, Meyer said.
Other concerns are the same as any other law enforcement agency -- theft, intoxication, drunken driving and domestics.
"We look at these casinos as a miniature city," Meyer said, because the number of people coming to the area for the gaming and other features raises the population significantly.
Riverside's population is about 925 people, city clerk Tina Thomas said.
Officials said they estimate 1.6 million people a year will visit the casino and resort.
Divided equally over the 365 days in a year, that's more than 4,300 guests a day -- almost five times the normal town population. All seven of the agents placed in the Riverside location are new to casino security, but all are veteran law enforcement officers, including former state troopers and a former state narcotics agent, Meyer said.
Because all of these agents had significant law enforcement training, they only needed to learn casino-specific items, such as training in gaming and surveillance, he said. The agents have been training at casinos in the Quad Cities, Meyer said.
"They'll be just fine," he said.
DCI agents will work in their surveillance room, separate from the casino's security office, as well as walk the casino floor.
The DCI will handle everything on the casino property while they are on duty, except for accidents in the parking lot, which are part of the sheriff's department's jurisdiction, Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar said.
The Washington County Sheriff's Department also will respond to calls during the times of day when there are no DCI agents on duty and as backup for fights or volatile situation calls, Dunbar said. The Washington County Sheriff's Department has 16 sworn deputies -- Dunbar, two civil deputies, 10 patrol deputies and three sergeants -- to cover more than 550 square miles.
"We're not always there," Meyer said, but estimated DCI agents are on site 18 to 20 hours a day most days.
Unlike all other casinos in the state, the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort will be in a town without a police department. But Meyer said he did not see this as an issue for the DCI.
"We've been at this long enough where there's a good understanding of our role," he said.
DCI agents are plain clothes officers, while the sheriff deputies and casino security will be in uniform.
The state agents also will be the only officers based inside the casino that have police power, including the ability to make arrests, Meyer said.
For example, if there is a customer who has had too much to drink, an employee at the casino would first alert the casino security. Options would be suggested, such as taking a cab or staying at the hotel instead of driving home. If the customer still insisted on driving home, a DCI agent could be called in. The agent would continue to suggest the options, or could arrest the person, Meyer said.
A problem for Iowa casinos, unlike those in Las Vegas or Reno, is that people can't walk down the street to their hotel after a night of gambling and drinking, he said. Instead, many want to drive the vehicle they came in back home.
"That's what we want to prevent," he said.
Iowa DCI agents also are alert for problems such as money laundering and professional cheats who travel the country. DCI agents share information with other agents across the state and around the nation, Meyer said.
"We are always looking for the money laundering end," including drug or embezzled money, he said.
Just like in other areas of the state, such as Council Bluffs, Dubuque and Clinton, DCI agents keep a close eye out for underage people.
"We pay a great deal of attention to that," he said.
Some hurdles to cross even after opening
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
RIVERSIDE -- Even before state regulators lifted the ban on new casinos in September 2004, Dan Kehl was looking in the Iowa City area for a place to put one.
The first idea was for a location in Johnson County, but polling information clearly showed that voters wouldn't support it. So Kehl, chief executive officer of the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, looked to locales in Washington and Iowa counties to gauge interest.
"A lot of folks say you can't (do) a destination resort in Iowa. We've done a lot of focus groups -- they just couldn't see it. But then when people see what we're doing here, they start to understand. This is so much more than just about gaming," Kehl said.
Now, a little more than two years after the moratorium and following 13 months of construction, Kehl and others are betting they will hit the jackpot in Riverside with the opening Thursday of a Las Vegas-style casino 14 miles south of Iowa City.
"I really think it's going to be good for the community," 51-year Riverside resident Marvin Sammons said. "I think it'll bring some life."
The more than 350,000-square-foot facility will have 1,181 slot machines, 30 table games and a 14-table poker room. Officials said they estimate 1.6 million people a year will visit the casino and resort. The $140 million complex includes a 201-room hotel, four restaurants, an event center and an 18-hole golf course designed by Rees Jones that is set to open in June 2007.
During opening day events, which will stretch through the Labor Day weekend, there will be music, pool parties and a private showing for more than 2,000 dignitaries and investors. Iowa-born actor Tom Arnold will perform on the Show Lounge stage at 5 p.m. Saturday as well as roam around greeting guests during the day, general manager Joe Massa said. The performance is free to the public. Two weeks later, at 4 p.m. Sept. 16, "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno is scheduled to take the stage at the resort's Event Center, he said.
The risk of the vote
Arranging the high-profile entertainment was only one step in the long road to opening the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort.
"There were so many different hurdles along the way that had to be passed," said Kehl, whose father, Robert Kehl, was one of three developers granted a license when the state became the first in the nation to launch riverboat gambling in April 1991.
"A lot of people have raised eyebrows and said, 'I don't know. It's just never going to happen. Why would it ever happen here?' We just said we've got to make it happen. Take one hurdle down at a time. So now that we're close to the end, I think people are getting it," Kehl said.
The biggest hurdle was persuading voters in Washington County to approve the project in a special election Aug. 31, 2004 -- one of seven such referendums on the ballot that year around the state.
"It was a big risk and a big gamble," Kehl said. "All the way up to the election, we felt that it could go either way."
Three weeks before the election, polling information indicated that the referendum would fail, he said.
"We had to speak with facts because we were always tested, and the people who were against us threw out a lot of speculation," Kehl said.
People who opposed the project formed a group called CARE, or Communities Against Riverboat Expansion. Organizers started their campaign six weeks before the pivotal vote.
"We had to move fast," said Jim Hussey, a CARE member and Kalona resident.
Every day during that six-week span, Washington County residents were bombarded with fliers in the mail and full-page advertisements in local newspapers, Hussey said.
"You couldn't avoid the paid media on their behalf," he said.
Around Washington County, green signs worked to persuade people to vote in favor of the gambling referendum. To battle back, CARE printed and distributed 1,000 blue signs.
Casino backers reported to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission in May 2005 that they spent $469,000 to persuade the approximately 21,000 Washington County residents. That's more than $22 a person.
CARE, meanwhile, spent about $9,000, or 43 cents per resident.
On the day of the vote, 53 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. When the polls closed, the proposal squeaked by with a margin of 52.2 percent -- the closest of any of the 15 county referendum votes that took place in 2003 and 2004.
"I was disappointed," Hussey said. "I think we gave the best fight we could with the time and the resources we had."
But the county vote was just one hurdle. There were still many tense months to go.
Joining the larger pool
The next hurdle involved receiving approval -- and with it, a gambling license -- from state regulators. People on both sides made their way to Johnston in central Iowa for the crucial vote May 11, 2005.
Just three weeks earlier, a Massachusetts consulting firm presented a market study to members of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. The firm, Cummings Associates, projected the Riverside project would be the second-highest grossing venture of the 10 the commission would vote on.
Hussey said the report served as a virtual death knell for CARE and its effort to have the commission deny the license request.
"This will maximize revenue for the state, and we are going to vote for it -- period," Hussey said about the commission's decision. "They couldn't have been more clear."
When the vote was taken, four of the five commissioners approved the license for the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, with the sole nay vote coming from Michael Mahaffey, who declined all 10 applications before the commission that day.
Finding a following
As the walls of the casino have gone up, a growing number of people appear to be getting behind the project.
"I think it'll be good," said Jaci Salazar, owner and operator of Exhale Tanning Salon & Hair Studio, which opened on First Street in Riverside in May.
"The only reason we opened it was because the casino was coming to town," she said.
Salazar said she is not concerned about the resort's spa taking away business.
"I don't believe they'll have tanning," she said.
Also, she expects a haircut there to cost three times as much as one done at Exhale by Riverside resident Teri Fisher.
Another Riverside resident, Lance Carolan, also said he expects the casino to be good for Riverside because it will provide the city with money that could help get the downtown going, he said.
In an agreement between the city and the casino, Riverside will receive $1.7 million a year that will go into the general fund, city clerk Tina Thomas said. The money will come to the city every year as long as the casino keeps its gaming license. The operating license is subject to renewal every year, and the county must hold another gambling referendum in 2012.
The nonprofit organization that holds the gaming license, Washington County Riverboat Foundation Inc., also will receive about $3.3 million of casino revenues. According to state law, more than $834,000 will be distributed to the nine incorporated towns in the county on a per capita basis. The rest of the money, about $2.5 million, will go to other nonprofit and charitable groups in the county that apply for funding.
The first round of nonprofit applications started last month. The Washington County Riverboat Foundation Inc. will look at all the applications and determine which ones meet the grant guidelines and criteria, foundation president Tim Putney said. There is no maximum or minimum number of nonprofits that will receive funding, and each will receive an individually determined amount.
For this period, nonprofit letters of intent are due Friday. The two-page application is due Oct. 1. Awards will be given Dec. 15. The same process will occur every six months.
The safety concern
Bringing an estimated 1.6 million visitors to the Riverside area will add a unique strain to the area, because it is the only casino-holding city in the state without its own police department.
Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar said his main concern is traffic traveling to and from the casino on Highways 22 and 218.
"Highway (22) just wasn't designed for that many people," he said.
The Washington County Sheriff's Department is based in Washington, about 24 miles southwest of Riverside. The department has 16 sworn deputies -- Dunbar, two civil deputies, 10 patrol deputies and three sergeants -- to cover more than 550 square miles.
This means during the day shift, there are only one to two deputies to patrol the entire county. In the evening, the number is bumped up to two or three.
Even with the recently hired 16th deputy in place to enforce traffic on Highways 218 and 22, "there's still going to be times that we just have one deputy on," Dunbar said.
"I just can't help but believe we'll have more calls" when the casino opens, especially for alcohol, domestics and bad checks, he said. "If the numbers go up, it came from somewhere."
Also, fire response may be a concern because the Riverside Community Volunteer Fire Department is made up of volunteers, many of whom work out of town during the day.
"Certainly, those are issues we're going to have to look into and consider," Riverside Mayor Bill Poch said about the sheriff and fire services.
Poch said the city council has begun to have early stage discussions involving options for sheriff's patrols and possibly adding deputy staff on a part-time basis.
"I would rather move slowly and methodically ... make sure that the decisions we make are the correct ones," he said.
Will the bet pay off?
The casino is expected to earn $83 million in gaming revenue its first year as well as an additional $10 million from other venues, such as the golf course and event center.
"That's the stuff that keeps me up at night," Kehl said. "(But) I feel pretty good about our projections."
The casino and resort will be staffed by about 900 to 950 full- and part-time employees, about 45 percent of whom are from Washington County, he said. Another 35 percent are from Johnson County.
"It'll definitely be the largest private employer" in Washington County, said Bob Schutt, a labor market research economist with Iowa Workforce Development. The next-largest private employers have fewer than 500 employees.
However, not all who visited the casino job fairs were impressed with the positions available.
Trudy Buster, who grew up in the Washington County town of Ainsworth but now lives in North Liberty, said both her sisters went to one of the job fairs but "neither one of the them did accept jobs because of the pay."
Entry-level positions were about $8 an hour, she said.
"Eight dollars an hour isn't enough to take care of a family," Buster said.
Riverside Casino & Golf Resort employees, however, said they are excited to be part of a project that is just beginning.
"It's something different. I've worked at an office most of my career," said Marilyn Tomas of Iowa City, who was learning to be a dealer at the casino's dealer school in June. "I think that it's cool starting something from the ground up."
Others noted the weeks of training together, helping the casino and resort staff to bond.
"The people are great to work with," said Joan Brendel, a security shift manager who is coming to Riverside after starting in the casino business about a year ago. "We're kind of like our own little community, our own little family out there."
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 28, 2006
Q: What is the name of the casino?
A: Riverside Casino & Golf Resort.
Q: When does the casino open?
A: Aug. 31, 2006.
Q: Who owns the casino?
A: Riverside Casino & Golf Resort LLC is owned 6.25 percent by Kehl Management, 50 percent by 325 Iowa investors and 43.75 percent by Catfish Bend Riverside LLC. Catfish Bend Riverside, is owned 51 percent by Kehl Development and 49 percent by 480 Iowa investors.
Q: What is the involvement of Catfish Bend?
A: Catfish Bend initially pursued putting the casino in Riverside. The Kehl family, including Robert Jr. and Dan Kehl and parents Robert Sr. and Ruth Kehl, owned Catfish Bend and its casinos in Clinton, Burlington and Fort Madison. They sold Catfish Bend in June to Randy Winegard and investors, but the Kehl family kept a separate entity known as Catfish Bend Riverside.
Q: Who runs the casino?
A: Kehl Management, including Dan Kehl, CEO, Robert Kehl Jr. and Ken Bonnet, CFO, were hired to run the casino.
Q: Where is the casino?
A: 3184 Highway 22 in Riverside. That is 18 miles south of Interstate 80, 1.5 miles east of Highway 218 and off Highway 22 on the north side.
Q: How much did the casino cost?
A: About $140 million, including $69 million for construction; $16 million for design, land and fees; $20 million for gaming equipment and systems; $11 million for other equipment and furnishing and support systems; and $24 million for related pre-opening expenses and working capital.
Q: How big is the casino?
A: The facility is 350,000-square-feet, including the 58,000 square feet of gaming space.
Q: What is inside?
A: 1,181 slot machines, 30 table games and a 14-table poker room, spa, a 201-room hotel, indoor/outdoor pool, an event center, casino show lounge, water feature bar, steakhouse, three buffet areas, ala carte diner, coffee and ice cream shop, gift shop, boutique and VIP lounge.
Q: Who holds the gaming license?
A: The gaming license is held by the not-for-profit, Washington County Riverboat Foundation, Inc.; Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, LLC, holds the operator's license.
Q: How often is the gaming license reviewed?
A: The operating license is subject to annual renewal. Every eight years the county has to approve the continuation of gaming by referendum.
Q: How much revenue will the casino make?
A: Estimated first year gaming revenue is $83 million with an additional $10 million from other venues.
Q: Where will the money go?
A: The foundation expects to receive about $3.3 million of annual gaming revenues, of which 25 percent will go, per capita, to the nine incorporated communities in Washington County. The balance will be distributed to county non-profit or charitable organizations that apply for the money. Of the revenue, the state will receive about 22 percent of gaming revenues and funnel back about .5 percent to Riverside and .5 percent to Washington County -- about $350,000 each. The casino investors also pay state and federal income taxes on any profits as well as pay sales taxes and fees.
Q: How much will the casino increase the local tax base?
A: Riverside will receive $1.7 million annually.
Q: How many people will the casino draw?
A: An estimated 1.6 million people a year.
Q: Where will patrons come from?
A: Most from a radius of about 200 miles, including Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, a small percentage from Des Moines and surrounding local areas, western Illinois and northern Missouri.
Q: What projects will be built around the casino?
A: In June 2007, an 18-hole championship golf course. Also under consideration are a 2,000-seat amphitheater, an extreme sport indoor/outdoor water park and a mixed-use development.
Q: How many employees will there be?
A: An estimated 900 to 950. An estimated 45 percent live in Washington County and 35 percent in Johnson County.