Rhythm City Casino Resort opened its next gaming chapter in Iowa on Thursday with a full house.
The event center of the new casino, hotel and entertainment complex was at full capacity as more than 1,000 invited guests and VIPs were on hand for the opening ceremony. The crowd — many of whom were dressed in tuxedos and sequined cocktail dresses — listened intently as guest speakers and casino officials spoke of the long road to Davenport's first land-based casino.
Dan Kehl, CEO of the parent company Elite Casino Resorts, said this marked the company's third new land-based casino opening in Iowa. "It seems it gets better every time."
He and others acknowledged his mother, Ruth Kehl, who sat on stage with nearly 30 company's board directors, for her pioneering role in Iowa's gaming industry.
She and her late husband, Robert Kehl, were the first to be awarded a gaming license when riverboat gambling began in Iowa 25 years ago. Their company also developed the state's first land-based casino Riverside Casino & Golf Resort. Elite Casinos Resorts also owns Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort, Larchwood, Iowa.
In the glitzy, spacious new complex, two of its restaurants pay homage to the Kehls: Robert's Buffet and Ruthie's.
Rhythm City General Manager Mo Hyder told the guests that the industry has continued to evolve in Iowa and the new casino's opening "marks another milestone."
The $110 million complex, located at 7077 Elmore Ave., also includes a 106-room hotel and a gaming floor with 800 slot machines and 34 table games. The project — a $160 million investment began with the Kehls' purchase of the Rhythm City Casino for $50 million, he said.
Hyder said he returned to the Quad-Cities after taking a job elsewhere when Dan Kehl told him he wanted to buy the Rhythm City Casino and turn the boat into a land-based casino. "We were land-locked, this gives us a lot of flexibility and our location gives us a lot of flexibility,'' he said of the new prime site at the intersection of Interstates 80 and 74.
"We have created an experience that is going to position us as the market leader," he said.
Frank Clark, president of the Regional Development Authority, or RDA, said the authority's new name reflects both the efforts of the new Regional Vision Q2030 as well as the Kehl family's business, which began in Dubuque. The RDA holds the casino's gaming license.
"The RDA has distributed approximately $60 million in this community," he said, adding "$60 million is a significant infusion in our economy and in the nonprofits. We want you to be even more profitable so we can give away more."
Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch said the new casino will create "a synergistic energy" in the north Davenport area. "What the Kehls have done is open up another area that is going to blossom," he said.
After leading a countdown before the ceremonial ribbon was cut, emcee Gary Dolphin, "the Voice of the Hawkeyes," hollered "Touchdown Rhythm City Casino Resort! Touchdown!"
Inside the casino, guests gave the new slots and table games a first try. Connie Powell, of Rock Island, said the Rhythm City boat was her favorite casino before "and it still is."
In fact, her first dollar in a slot machine resulted in a $70 win. "Now I have money in my pocket."
Jane Lorenzen-Dietz, a dealer/supervisor, was waiting for the action to begin at her blackjack table. A longtime casino employee who has worked 16 years between Rhythm City and Jumer's Casino, she took a four-year break to work elsewhere. "This is my first opening," the Bettendorf woman said. "Everybody worked very hard. It's Vegas style now."
As the first guests gambled and toured the new complex, hundreds were outside lining up for the 6 p.m. public opening.
Sue Wren and Judy Fowler arrived at 4:30 p.m. and quickly found a spot on the curb as their husbands held their place in line in the hot sun. "We left Jumer's (Casino) to come over here," said Wren, of Shorewood, Illinois. "We had to see the new place."
Fowler, of Plainfield, Illinois, said they were hoping to win. "Because we didn't win any at Jumer's."
As she played the slots, Marie Christian, of Davenport acknowledged the jobs created by the new casino. "I love it. I think it's beautiful. It is something to do that is elegant. When you think of Iowa you don't think of elegant."
Christian, who sits on the RDA board that distributes money to the nonprofits, said "I like it when we get to give money to the community. 'We don't feel guilty (gambling) because we're giving money to the nonprofits."