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Ruth Kehl Receives Founders Award at Iowa Women Leaders in Gaming Summit

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Ruth Kehl was honored at the Iowa Gaming Association’s Inaugural Women Leaders in Gaming Summit with the industry’s first ever Founders Award. 

This award was established to recognize a woman who has been a proven leader and instrumental in the growth of Iowa’s gaming industry. 

Ruth Kehl’s nominating comments applauded her role as the ‘Mother of Riverboat Gaming’; who assisted in the company founded with her husband, Bob, to usher in a casino industry that has grown exponentially to numerous states in the past 23 years.

Ruth and Bob started a restaurant, catering and dinner cruise businesses in Dubuque, Iowa in the 1970s, which quickly increased capacity to an 800 passenger boat. 

That hard work created success for them to receive the National Small Business of the Year Award from President Reagan in 1986, beating out a now well-known company, Microsoft, for the honor. 

When the Iowa legislature authorized riverboat gaming in 1989 to become the first state outside of Nevada and Atlantic City to offer Vegas-style casino slots and table games, Ruth and her husband were granted the first riverboat gaming operator’s license in Iowa, also becoming the first American-flagged gambling vessel. 

Their foresight during the 1990s quickly grew to be operating four riverboat casinos in the Midwest, including the Dubuque Casino Belle, the Mississippi Belle II, Catfish Bend Casino, Fort Madison/Burlington, Iowa and St. Joe Frontier Casino, St. Joseph, Missouri. 

Ruth was recognized for the impressive impact their company made in the gaming industry’s early years of growth by building 11 riverboat casinos aiding the development of an expanding riverboat gaming around the country. “Ruth also deserves this Founders Award for her role as a philanthropist,” said Sharon Haselhoff, General Manager of the Grand Falls Casino Resort and Karlyn Ollendick, CIO of Riverside, Grand Falls and Rhythm City Casinos during their presentation. 

They made several significant gifts to give back, especially in the Dubuque area. The Kehl Diabetes Center of Unity Point Health-Finley Hospital and The Robert and Ruth Kehl Center at Clarke University are just a couple of examples of their generosity. 

Haselhoff and Ollendick praised Ruth Kehl as an inspiration for many women who now work in the gaming industry. “Her entrepreneurial spirit perfected businesses that became major employers to thousands of staff who provide worthwhile entertainment and tourism opportunities,” they stated. 

The IGA’s Women Leaders in Gaming Summit provided an opportunity to showcase some of the women leaders who have been successful in rising through the ranks to the executive level positions. The 155 registrants learned that over 52% of the 18 commercial casino workforce is female; 44% of those at the supervisor/manager positions are women, as are 37% in positions at the executive team level.

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