Iowa side casinos celebrate first year on land

BETTENDORF - Two casinos in the Iowa Quad Cities are celebrating their first year on land after a quarter-century of gaming on the Mississippi River.

Rhythm City Casino will get the party started on Friday, June 16. Isle Bettendorf will continue the fun over the following weekend.

Isle Bettendorf hit the jackpot by moving its casino just 223 feet onto land.  Rhythm City Casino also sent its riverboat floating away to open near the Interstate 80-Interstate 74 corridor in Davenport.

While both casinos are wrapping up their first year on land, the journey actually started back in 1991.

"It's 9,552 days ago that the industry was born here in Iowa," said Nancy Ballenger, Isle vice president and general manager.

At the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission meeting in Bettendorf on Thursday, June 15, there was a special reflection from Ballenger. She was there from the start.

"This was the birthplace of riverboat gambling," she told the panel.

Both casinos ushered in a new era of gaming with major projects. Both properties are attracting more regional visitors, making more money and becoming overnight destinations.

"Now, we've got restaurants, convention centers and hotels," Ballenger said.

Nearly 60,000 visitors checked out Rhythm City in its first five days. That helped to nearly double its revenue from the old riverboat days.

"Not only do we end up paying more taxes to the state of Iowa, but the Regional Development Authority, they have more money to distribute to important causes and needs," said Mo Hyder, Rhythm City's general manager.

Those aren't the only big changes. In May, Reno-based Eldorado Resorts began operating the Isle in Bettendorf.

It's part of a massive $1.7 billion deal, which includes some 20 additional gaming properties. One that should be seamless for customers and some 1,000 staffers.

"We have new ownership, but it's the same business every day," said Ballenger.  "We're continuing to grow the facility and grow the team."

After a hot start, both casinos are working to keep the momentum going.

"Look back to the last 20-25 years, these are great times," Hyder said.

Ballenger, as well, is betting on the future.

"To see the tremendous changes through the last 26 years, what's the next 26 years going to bring?" she asked.  "I'm so excited to know."