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Iowa’s Casino Industry Celebrates 25 Years!

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On April 1st and throughout the upcoming month there will be celebrations to recognize and applaud the launch of a significant industry that has now grown to 19 commercial casinos in Iowa with a $1 billion annual economic impact. “No one could have imagined 2.5 decades ago the vision by a few legislators would create such an important employer and premier entertainment destination in many communities,” said Wes Ehrecke, President & CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association. “It is truly one of the best business success stories we should all be proud of.” 

In 1989, Iowa was coming off the heels of a farm crisis. Communities like Dubuque and Davenport/Bettendorf were particularly hard hit with close ties to agricultural manufacturing. The legislature passed a law to legalize casino-style gaming on riverboats to be the first in the country or anywhere to do so. “Legislators touted this would be a catalyst for economic development, generate strong tourism dollars and create great jobs,” Ehrecke stated. “It is easy to see that those expectations have been exceeded in an extraordinary way.” 

Some highlight facts of what the gaming industry has become and accomplished since inception: 
  • As a catalyst for economic development casinos have collectively generated more than $6 billion in tax revenue for the state which has been allocated for many visionary purposes and projects benefitting every citizen. 
  • Since inception, casinos have also been a catalyst for philanthropic partnerships providing nearly 29,000 grants totaling $1.4 Billion awarded to worthy charitable organizations for many community betterment projects. 
  • The gaming industry has created strong stable careers and many employment opportunities with 9500 jobs providing great wages and benefits. More than 1600 staff have worked at their casino employer for at least 10 years; with 89 employees who have impressive longevity careers of at least 25 years. The latter group will be recognized in April with a special “25 Years Strong” pin to proudly wear on their gaming credential lanyard. 
  • A proven track record advancing women leaders—more than 53% of Iowa’s gaming workforce are women; over 40% of those in supervisor-manager roles are female; 30% of the senior/executive level positions are women. 
  • Proactive participation in the industry’s ‘Buy Iowa First’ program whereby casinos annually average between 84-89% of all their products and services are purchased from companies based in the state…creating an added ripple effect of those gainfully employed with those vendor businesses.  
  • Each year, the 19 casinos collectively are Iowa’s largest tourism attractions with nearly 22 million patrons; 60+% come from out of state. 
“From those first cruises on the river on April 1st 1991, Iowa’s gaming industry has continued to grow, expand and evolve over the past 25 years adding many amenities that are attractive to the patrons,” Ehrecke noted. “Fine dining, concerts, great meeting space, hotels, golfing, bowling, spas and more provide many great options to compliment the gaming experience.” 

“With billions of dollars invested in the property and deep roots in their respective community; I have no doubt Iowa’s state regulated commercial casinos will continue for the next 25 years to be a viable part of Iowa’s economy and add value to the state’s entertainment and tourism industries,” Ehrecke added. 

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Quad City Times: "Riverboat Gambling Came to Iowa Amid Farm Crisis, Heated Debate"
Quad City Times: "Riverboat Gambling : Q-C Made History 25 Years Ago"
Fact Sheets:
25 Years of Gaming, by the Numbers
2015 Economic Impact

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