Waterloo, Iowa – The Wild Rose Casino of Emmetsburg has never been a genuine riverboat, and state regulators decided Tuesday that it can quit pretending to be any type of water vessel.
The Wild Rose opened last year under a provision of Iowa’s riverboat gambling law that permitted casinos to be classified as „moored barges“ if they were simply built over water instead of being vessels that could navigate on rivers or lakes.
State lawmakers have since decided that that requirement – a vestige of a law originally requiring all riverboats to offer cruises – was unnecessary, and the Legislature repealed the water requirement, effective July 1.
Under action Tuesday by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, the Emmetsburg casino will be classified as a „gambling structure“ that can be permanently drydocked.
Wild Rose extends over part of a 12.5-acre pond that was excavated on the site.
„This is just another version of draining the swamp,“ joked Commissioner Gerald Bair of Ankeny.
Tom Timmons, vice president of operations for Wild Rose Entertainment, which operates the Emmetsburg casino, said the pond will not be totally drained, but the water will be drawn down so it does not extend under the casino. The pond is about 25 to 30 feet deep at its deepest point, but the water is only 2to 3 feet deep beneath the casino.
„With the freezing and thawing of the water, it could potentially hurt the support structure underneath the casino,“ Timmons said.
The pond will be reconfigured, he said, and longer-term plans call for construction of an outdoor amphitheater.
Wild Rose had 55,727 admissions in September, while generating gross casino revenue of USD 2.3 million, state records show.
Jack Ketterer, the Racing and Gaming Commission’s administrator, said Wild Rose is the first Iowa casino to ask to be excluded from the water requirement. Other casinos in that category will probably switch as their gambling licenses come up for renewal, he said.
The commission met Tuesday at the Isle Hotel and Casino in Waterloo, which opened in June and is also built over water.
Wild Rose Entertainment also operates the Mississippi Belle II riverboat casino in Clinton. It will make its final cruise on the Mississippi River today.
Riverboat cruises have been a part of legalized gambling in Iowa since the first floating casinos were launched in 1991.
„This is the end of an era,“ Timmons said.