Future of riverboat gambling goes dockside

Oct 7, 2003 12:41 AM

The future of riverboat gaming looks good, especially if future projects turn dockside.

"We are building a $105 million dockside casino in the Kansas City market that will be a complete transformation for the region," said Jim Wise, director of corporate communications for Argosy Casinos, when contacted last Friday in St. Louis.

The Kansas City upgrade is slated for completion by early December, said Wise, who came to Argosy last April after more than 15 years in the gaming industry at Atlantic City and Dallas.

"The states dictated the necessity for riverboat style gaming rather than land based," Wise said. "On the other hand, customers didn’t like the limitations from riverboats. So, the dockside style is the compromise."

The bottom line: Outside of Florida, the days of gambling cruises are over.

"When we finish our upgrade in Kansas City, the dockside casino will have double the space from what we have on the boat," Wise said. "There will be restaurants, slots and table games that are comparable to what you will find in Las Vegas. All the latest creations, such as Gilligan Island, will be here."

Argosy operates six riverboat sites in and along the Âí­Mississippi River and enjoys "an excellent relationship" with the neighboring states, according to Wise.

"The licensing and regulatory side has gone well with the states we work with," Wise explained. "In dealing with legislators, we hope they realize the employment and revenue we raise at our properties. They just need to ease up a little on taxes."

Though Argosy has focused on the Midwest, Wise has not ruled out the possibility of exploring dockside gaming across the USA.

"We look at our market areas independently," he said. "We don’t use the cookie cutter approach."

Riverboat gaming does emphasize local customers, conceding the tourist market for the resorts in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Connecticut Indian casinos

"The Midwest area enjoys the riverboat experience," Wise said. "In the Chicagoland area, we put a brand new casino barge. Locals are our business. There just isn’t much tourism."

Argosy’s most successful venue is its 24-hour gaming riverboat in the Cincinnati suburb of Lawrenceburg, Ind.

"Last year we made $380 million, which I believe is the highest grossing riverboat in the country," he said. "The percentage of play is similar to Nevada and the national averages. We use the ticket in-ticket out, which is what the good customer wants."

Argosy officials recently visited Las Vegas for the Global Gaming Expo to gain leads on future projects.

"G2E is our opportunity to have face-to-face meetings with investors," Wise said. "The Expo allows us to see the latest in equipment and software packages, which we immediately want for the riverboats. I’m very optimistic with where our industry is headed."