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May 04, 2006

Shuffling the Q-C gambling scene

Nothing ain't done til it's done, so some skepticism is in order when listening to the Casino Rock Island people talk about a late 2007 opening for their planned new boat/hotel/shopping/theater complex out on Interstate 280, at Illinois 92.

Assuming , though, that time-frame turns out to even close to right, the move will sharply alter the face of the gambling industry in the Quad-Cities. The Rock Island boat, the oldest, smallest and, well, shabbiest of the three boats here, will morph into the newest, biggest and splashiest, serious competition for the Isle of Capri in Bettendorf, currently No. 1 in both size and revenue.

Caught in the middle, literally, will be Rhythm City, the Davenport boat (also owned by Isle of Capri).

Upriver,the Bettendorf boat is adding a 12-story, 258-room tower to its existing 256-room place. Bettendorf's planning an events center at the site. All of it, of course, is conveniently located a couple of blocks off Interstate 74. Downriver, there'll be the Rock Island boat's big new center, located conveniently right off an I-280 exit.

In that picture, Rhythm City's a dead-sure bet to fall into Casino Rock Island's former slot at the bottom of the barrel; probably will end up there even if their stalled plan to build a new hotel on the Davenport riverfront comes to fruition. Anybody coming from out of town isn't particularly likely to get past the places on the interstates. Why drive through all that traffic to get downtown?

When Rhythm City fast-talked its proposal through a split city council just over a year ago, there was much talk of the project getting under way late last summer; then, in applications filed with the Corps of Engineers last fall, RC estimated a spring, 2006 construction start. That didn't happen either.

Fast-talking through the Corps flood-plain alteration approval process didn't work. William Ashton, an engineer with vast experience on Davenport flood plain issues, has challenged the hydrology figures given the Corps by Rhythm City, particularly regarding the impact of higher water on the boat's neighbors. Also still hanging fire is an Iowa Department of Natural Resources permit, issuance of which is also being challenged because of fish habitat and spawning-ground issues. No sure bet on it, either.

As one of the many Davenporters who opposed the deal the city cut with Rhythm City, I'm having trouble feeling much sympathy for RC's plight. The boat/city should have given up the fantasy, as did Rock Island, that the boats provide any real economic boost for downtown.

Chasing that illusion is costing the city's taxpayers, first in the subsidies for contruction of the proposed riverfront hotel and secondly in the agreement that the city will take ownership of the problem-ridden Black Hawk Hotel, now owned by the Rhythm City people. City's getting the Black Hawk for $1, which is $1 more than its worth.

Anyway, better not get started on that.


Overlooked in all the hoopla about the economic wonders the Casino Rock Island project will create is that fact that it takes the riverboat -- and the river -- out of riverboat gambling. The new CRI won't be within eyeshot of the river, other than maybe from upper-floor windows in the hotel.

Any requirements about being on the river apparently will be satisfied by the fact the casino portion of the develoment will have a damp piece of Stryofoam somewhere under it.

In short, land-based gambling is here, in Illinois as least.

Hmm .. maybe the suggestion that RC could convert the Black Hawk into a casino/hotel wasn't so far fetched. Run a moat an inch deep around the place, pipe a little water down to the river.

Maybe the Iowa Gaming Commission would see that as good enough to meet the river requirement, given that the competition is using wet Styrofoam at a site a mile from the river.

A casino in the middle of town is no prize, but it'd be no worse than one on an otherwise very nice riverfront. And Davenport's taxpayers wouldn't get stuck with the Black Hawk.

Posted by jcb at May 4, 2006 10:13 AM


haha... so.. the requirements are satisfied by a piece of damp styrofoam...

Any further details about just how the new Casino Rock Island project is meeting the "river" boat requirements or how they jiggered them?

I probably have some wet styrofoam in my basement after a particularly heavy rain. Should I be ordering some poker tables?

Posted by: Tid at May 4, 2006 12:17 PM

What a farce it is. Home owners and landlords have strict code enforcement. The Gaming Commissions on both sides of the river are willing to wink at the definition of "on the river.'Meanwhile we pay for thousands of lawbreakers in prisons who failed to circumvent our laws. The majority of them know that they are there because they are poor. We cannot argue that there is a double standard when it comes to interpreting laws.

Posted by: Tacky at May 4, 2006 03:19 PM

John, you seem to have been overcome with a case of Realism.

Posted by: Illinois at May 4, 2006 07:05 PM

Illinois, it's a character fault, I guess. It does keep happening.

And realism dictates that we not get too excited about the land-based part of it. Putting the gambling complex out on the interstate makes sense.

The only part about it that makes me nervous is that someone will be dragging it up as a precedent in some future legislative debate involving the total number of licenses, and whether the new licenses have to go to river operations.

Posted by: jcb at May 5, 2006 12:37 AM

Hmm, I posted a comment on the QCOnline article of this, when I really should have posted it on the "blog entry." Live and learn I suppose.

I basically said that if the Bettendorf and future RI casinos are mainly catering towards Chicago overnight gamblers, maybe Ryhthm City can be the locals' boat.

Posted by: QuadCityImages at May 5, 2006 06:44 AM