Riverboat gambling celebrates 25 years in the Quad Cities

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

It's been 25 years since riverboat gambling made its debut in the Quad Cities.

On April 1, 1991, the President Casino set sail from Davenport shortly after the Diamond Lady began its cruise out of Bettendorf.

"We got on the boat, and it was really exciting. We passed these tokens out to everybody on those first six cruises. I went around with a little basket and greeted people, gave them my coins," recalled Mary Ellen Chamberlin.

Chamberlin had pushed for the passage of a referendum that would allow riverboat gambling in Scott County, and later, became president of the Riverboat Development Authority, the non-profit that holds the city's gaming license and distributes a share of the profits to community organizations.

She says the arrival of the riverboats brought hope to many people in the Quad Cities who were struggling after the collapse of farm-equipment industry.

"The 80s were devastating on the Quad Cities. We lost thousands and thousands of jobs out of the community, and we hoped that maybe with riverboat gambling we could get a boost in tourism and create basically a new industry," said Chamberlin.

Thom Hart was mayor of Davenport at the time, and says cities up and down the Mississippi River were trying to get a share of those dollars.

"Iowa passed the law almost a year before Illinois did, but had an implementation date about 18 months out. Illinois passed a law and made a very close implementation date, so there was a race to get it going," said Hart.

Casino Rock Island joined the two Iowa riverboats in 1992.

Looking back, Hart says riverboat gambling didn't turn out to be as great as many had hoped it would be. Still, he says it provided jobs and entertainment at a time when both were desperately needed.

"I don't think it's a huge economic driver, but I always thought that this was more frosting on the cake than the cake itself," said Hart.

Since 1991, the RDA has awarded $59, 513,128 to non-profit community organizations, which is why Chamberlin calls riverboat gaming a success.

"From my perspective, they delivered exactly... in fact, multitudes more than I imagined," she said.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.