Riverboat ring your bell

Soon, you may be able to hear the death knell for what was initially billed as "riverboat gambling" in Iowa. The Senate State Government Committee will meet tomorrow at 11:30 am in room 22 at the statehouse to take up a bill that will be another big moment in the long-running debate about gambling in Iowa.  The bill would erase the requirement that those floating casino "barges" which are sitting on lakes be required to maintain the fantasy that the gambling casino is floating on water.

According to Senator Mike Connolly, some of the operations in Iowa pay big money to construct and maintain what the industry calls "bladders" under the boats/barges to follow the law which requires the casinos to sort-of float on water.  As you may know, a few years ago the state’s then-failing race tracks convinced lawmakers to allow slot machine casinos to be built right next to the tracks, and then a couple of years ago legislators voted to allow table games at those "dry" casinos — and when I say "dry" I mean they aren’t "floating."  It’s not a reference to the availability of alcohol. 

I have been reporting statehouse news for so long I can remember when Represetnatives Bob Arnould and Tom Fey argued gambling would revive Iowa river towns like Davenport (where they both resided at the time).  I was there when Representative Greg Spenner, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, cast the deciding "yes" vote on the bill that legalized riverboat gambling.

The original legislation not only required all the casinos to be riverboats, but the boats had to cruise up and down a river.  There were also wagering limits — five dollars per bet.  The enterprise was billed as tourism with gambling thrown in.

Now, it’s basically gambling with a little tourism thrown in.  Many of the facilities offer concerts and the one in Riverside even has a golf course planned, but it has become clear few gamblers think of themselves as Bart Maverick, floating to New Orleans, living on Jacks and Queens.  Luck, though, is probably the lady the gamblers of today still love the best.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.