Twain lives as casino

Jul 31, 2001 1:29 AM

The Missouri Gaming Commission approved a license for the Mark Twain Casino on Wednesday, clearing the way for the casinos opening and heralding a big if not glitzy change for this small northeast town.

LaGrange, an 1,100-resident Lewis Community about 35 miles north of Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, now has a new title: the state’s smallest community with a casino.

“This has got to be one of the most exciting things for LaGrange in the 61 years I’ve been here,” Mayor Harold Ludwig said of the new 38,000 square-foot casino, complete with slot machines and 14 gaming tables, including blackjack, craps, roulette and more.

The new facility expects about 12,000 visitors weekly, said Craig Searl, the casinos marketing director.

Ludwig said it’s estimated that the town, which now spends about $400,000 annually, could get about $1.4 million a year from the casino. In gearing up for the new arrival, LaGrange plans to hire a city administrator and perhaps double the police force now numbering five officers.

Wednesday evening, hundreds waited in line to get into the new casino while, inside, slot machines blinked and buzzed at patrons.

Leona Altgilbers, 68 of Quincy, Ill., waited 2½ hours to try her luck. She and a friend called the casino “beautiful” and said it was worth the wait.

The casino floats in an artificial basin of Mississippi River water to comply with state law, though the water isn’t visible to visitors.