Riverboat gambling pioneer reflects on 25 years of Iowa gaming

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As Iowa gambling enters a new era, the longtime president of the Riverboat Development Authority believes she's leaving Davenport gaming in a good place.

Mary Ellen Chamberlin celebrated her retirement from the RDA Wednesday night and reflected on 25 years of change in the gaming industry.

"It's gone through two or three new lives, and this is one of the reasons we've been struggling so hard in Davenport -- we're still sitting there with our 1991 product while everybody else has moved on," said Chamberlin.

Chamberlin started with the RDA when it was formed in 1989, two years before the first riverboat even came to the Quad Cities.  She has been its only president, presiding over the group that holds the Scott County gaming license and distributes more than $56 million in gaming revenue to area nonprofits.

With Rhythm City Casino headed to land, Chamberlin said she believes Davenport is taking a big step forward.

Still, more change could be on the horizon.

Tuesday, some Cedar Rapids lawmakers announced a plan to overhaul Iowa gaming laws. The bill, which they plan to introduce in January, would allow the Iowa legislature to grant a gaming license to Cedar Rapids for the state's first smoke-free casino.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which historically controls gaming licenses, has already rejected Cedar Rapid's bid for one.

"Cedar Rapids wants to be a law unto themselves I think. But I'm not sure. I have a great deal of faith in the Racing and Gaming Commission. They've done a really good job over the years," said Chamberlin.

Chamberlin says she expects to see more "resort-type entertainment centers" as casinos continue to evolve.

Meanwhile, she'll stay busy serving on various boards and committees, taking care of her family, and remodeling parts of her 112-year-old house.

"I have mixed emotions," Chamberlin said.

The RDA meets on Thursday, December 4, 2014, at 4 p.m. That's when the Search Committee plans to make its recommendation for a new president.

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