Iowa phases out riverboat gambling cruises

Clinton, Iowa (AP) – The Mississippi Belle II Casino will make its final voyage on Oct. 10, ending the riverboat gambling era in Iowa.

Riverboat gaming took float in Iowa in 1991 on the Mississippi River. Boats would take guests out onto the river, where they would enjoy the view while having dinner and placing bets on casino games.

Now, the focus is on glitzy slot machines and table games.

After the Mississippi Belle II docks for good this winter, it will be replaced by the USD 35 million land-based Wild Rose Casino.

Iowa has eight other riverboat casinos on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, plus one on West Lake at Osceola. All are permanently docked.

The state’s gambling regulations were gradually relaxed, requiring riverboats to offer only 100 cruises a year. In 2004, the Iowa Legislature ended the cruising requirement, leaving the Mississippi Belle II as the only riverboat that still made regular excursions.

Jack Ketterer, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said many customers began leaving the boats before cruises began because one it began, it would be two hours before they could leave.

Maureen Roushar, a company spokeswoman, said that despite gambling industry trends, the Mississippi Belle II found a niche in riverboat excursions.

The boat would attract busloads of customers from throughout the Midwest, she said.

Diana Ramsey, of San Diego, and Sue Barry, of Rockford, Ill., were on a recent cruise, taking the trip several miles up the river.

„It was beautiful. I love this part of the country,“ Ramsey said.

The boat has attracted 460,000 customers over the past year, but Roushar said the Wild Rose Casino will be more customer-friendly and more competitive with the state’s newer casinos.

But people continue to board the Mississippi Belle II, hoping for one last chance for a gambling cruise.

„I like everything about the river. It’s just the most peaceful place to come,“ said Irvin Tiller, a retiree from Cedar Rapids. „What a day.“

„I’m going to miss it,“ said Ray DeVoe, a retired DuPont worker from Clinton.