A former Dubuque cafe owner who was granted the nation's first riverboat gambling license has died.

Robert Kehl, 78, died at his home in Dubuque on Wednesday, shortly after being released from a Dubuque hospital.

According to his obituary, he created the riverboat tourism industry in Dubuque. Kehl and his wife, Ruth, were restaurateurs and caterers who began operating riverboats in 1973. In 1990, they were granted the country's first riverboat gambling license. They launched the Casino Belle, a 2,000-passenger boat, from the port of Dubuque, a year later.

He also was the founder and president of Kehl Riverboats, which built and renovated 13 floating casinos, and a founding board member of Iowa's first land-based casino, the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort.

His company, Roberts River Rides, also operated several large excursion riverboats that docked in the Quad-Cities.

In 1994, the Mississippi Belle II was built for $14 million by the Kehl family as a floating casino for its Clinton gambling operation, replacing the company's first boat of the same name. 

One of his sons, Dan Kehl, is chief executive officer of Riverside Casino and Golf Resort. The company has entered into an exclusive option agreement  for the Rhythm City Casino as the city of Davenport moves toward a land-based casino.

The Isle of Capri announced the non-transferable option agreement with Kehl Development Corp., giving Kehl until Sept. 15 to exercise it. Kehl and the Isle have agreed to a purchase price of $51 million.

Kehl still must complete an agreement with the Riverboat Development Authority and negotiate a development agreement with the city.

The company plans to build a $110 million casino along the Interstate 80 corridor.