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E. Iowa casino to lure U of I fans

It will offer post-game parties, stadium shuttles

William Petroski

Des Moines Register

August 29, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, 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 Des Moines Register.]


Riverside, Ia. Poker games and slot machines are joining tailgating and barhopping as entertainment options for Iowa Hawkeye football fans visiting the Iowa City area this fall.

The plush, $140 million Riverside Casino and Golf Resort - located about 12 miles south of Iowa City - opens at 9 p.m. Thursday. That's just two days before Saturday's kickoff of the University of Iowa's football season against the University of Montana.

The casino complex has been designed as a destination resort that owners expect will draw about 1.5 million guests annually from as far away as Chicago, Kansas City and Minneapolis, although its primary market will be Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, said chief executive officer Dan Kehl. But the business is also making Hawkeye football part of its marketing efforts, he said.

The casino has spent $165,000 for a three-year deal to lease a new skybox at Kinnick Stadium, and the casino has purchased dozens of football tickets for its preferred customers.

Starting with the Iowa-Iowa State game on Sept. 16, charter buses will be offered to transport patrons between the casino parking lot and Kinnick Stadium, and there will be post-game parties at the Riverside complex.

Comedian and talk show host Jay Leno will perform at 4 p.m. after the Hawkeye-Cyclone game, with tickets starting at $100 each.

For gamblers who remain at the casino during Hawkeye games, the 1,180 slot machines will each have a small built-in television screen for fans to watch their favorite team.

Besides hosting Iowa football fans in general, the casino plans to target out-of-state fan contingents, as well as U of I alumni organizations.

Those fans should bring plenty of money: The cost for a hotel room at the Riverside complex will be $229.95 per night on football weekends.

"We'd like to bring those out-of-staters in here and let them stay here and spend their money and then go up to the game," Kehl said. "The University of Iowa alumni is another big group. Almost every week there is some type of conference coming to the Iowa City area, and we are going to market to them as well."

U of I sports information director Phil Haddy referred questions about the casino's marketing focus on Hawkeye football games to Associate Athletic Director Rick Klatt, who did not respond to requests for comment.

This week's opening of the Riverside Casino concludes a two-year push by pro-gambling forces that faced stiff local opposition. Fifteen Iowa counties held gambling referendums in 2003 and 2004, and the closest election was here in Washington County, where voters narrowly approved casino gaming, 52 percent to 48 percent.

The 58,000-square-foot casino is projected to generate $83 million annually in gross gambling revenue. The complex - with 926 employees - will also include a 201-room hotel, an events center, four restaurants and an 18-hole tournament golf course that will open next June. A site near the casino is being considered for the proposed $150 million indoor rain forest now known as "Earthpark."

Brad Franzwa, a U of I medical researcher, voted against the casino. He said he was so unhappy with the outcome of the referendum that he and his family sold their house in Riverside and moved to North Liberty.

"Riverside has been changed forever, and gambling is not something that we want to participate in," Franzwa said.

Washington banker Dale Torpey, another gambling opponent, said he now hopes Washington County residents make the best of the situation. About $3 million annually in casino profits is expected to be shared with a local foundation for community betterment projects, ranging from schools and library improvements to human services programs.

"If a father or mother spends their paycheck at the casino and it hurts their kids, we need to make sure we are covered here," he said.

Riverside Mayor Bill Poch has no qualms about his community of 928 people becoming home to one of the state's largest casinos. His town expects to rake in at least $1.7 million annually from the casino, almost double its current budget of $900,000.

"Most towns and cities would be tickled pink to have this opportunity," he said.

Jack Ketterer, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said the Riverside gambling complex is expected to rise to the upper tier of Iowa casinos in terms of financial performance.

"It will probably be the nicest casino in terms of the amenities that they are going to offer. ... It's a pretty impressive place," he said.



MARY CHIND/REGISTER PHOTOS

John Haes and Sally Stacy install carpet Friday in the events center of the new Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, which is set to open at 9\u2008p.m. Thursday. Owners expect to draw about 1.5 million guests annually, with its primary market being Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
 

Riverside Casino and Golf Resort
 
OWNERS: Kehl family owns 40%; 800 Iowa investors own 60%.
LOCATION: Riverside, about 12 miles south of Iowa City, near junction of U.S. Highway 218, Iowa Highway 22.
OPEN: 24 hours daily, starting at 9 p.m. Thursday.
GAMBLING: 1,180 slot machines, 44 table games.
OTHER: 201-room hotel; events center; 18-hole golf course opening in June 2007; four restaurants; spa; swimming pool; VIP lounge.
COST: $140 million.
PROJECTED ADMISSIONS/REVENUE: 1.5 million admissions annually; gross casino revenue of $83 million.
EMPLOYMENT: 926 people, including part-time workers, with average full-time pay of about $26,000 annually.
WEB: riversidecasinoandresort.com