CLINTON — Clinton’s riverboat casino has new owners.
But not only that.
On Thursday, the new owner — Wild Rose Clinton — announced its vision to move gaming operations off the Mississippi River and onto a yet-to-be-announced location in Clinton’s west end by late 2007.
“Clinton was one of the first communities in Iowa to embrace riverboat gaming, and we feel the support we’ve received for our acquisition and relocation from the city, the county and the employees is a real compliment,” said Michael Richards, president of Wild Rose. “Our plans for a land-based resort build on Clinton’s riverboat tradition with expanded entertainment and tourism features. The enhanced operations will increase the number of visitors and revenues, generating additional funding for community projects, charities, organizations and economic development.”
Wild Rose Clinton on Thursday completed the purchase of the assets of the Mississippi Belle II Riverboat Casino from the Mississippi Belle II Employees Ownership Co. — a transaction that received approval from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission that morning. Earlier this week, Wild Rose received word that the ESOP overwhelmingly supported the transaction, casting 99.8 percent of the 124,662 votes in favor of the sale. The trustee for the plan approved the sale on Tuesday.
Initially, Wild Rose Clinton will continue operating the Mississippi Belle II as a floating, cruising riverboat casino, maintaining the existing cruising schedule as well as the name. The company will make some comfort and cosmetic changes, including the replacement of approximately 40 percent of the slot machines with newer, more popular games and a redesign of the slot floor. Wild Rose also will improve the buffet with an expanded menu.
In tandem with the transaction, Wild Rose has been progressing with plans to relocate the operation and construct a land-based casino and resort with additional amenities, including a hotel and meeting facilities, on the west edge of Clinton.
Once the land-based casino is complete, most likely in late 2007, the operation will be rebranded under the Wild Rose name. Wild Rose will retain the existing employees and expand the staff as needed after the new casino resort is constructed and opened. Player cards and points from the Belle will transfer to Wild Rose’s Winner’s Club programs.
“When news began to circulate that the Kehl family might be selling its interest in the Mississippi Belle II, those of us in elected office, as well as those who enjoy this form of entertainment, were quite concerned,” wrote LaMetta Wynn, mayor of Clinton, in a letter to IRGC commissioners. “We were pleased to hear that the leading suitor was (Wild Rose). We’ve been impressed with the level of investment and development that Wild Rose has made in Emmetsburg. We look forward to seeing their vision take form in Clinton.”
Tom Fullerton, executive vice president of Clinton National Bank and a member of the Clinton County Community Development Association, also addressed the IRGC with support for Wild Rose and its plans to improve the Clinton casino. Wild Rose plans to further energize the casino’s marketing efforts, targeting audiences in a 75-mile radius of Clinton.
“We see a number of opportunities to expand the audience of the Clinton casino,” added Kevin Preston, senior vice president of gaming operations for Wild Rose. “The market is a natural for gaming, entertainment and other types of recreational tourism. Our new land-based facility complements the city’s proposed riverfront development in a way that we believe can re-energize the entire area.”
Nearly 75 percent of the Mississippi Belle II’s visitors already are from out-of-state communities, with one in three coming from Illinois. Preston says the combination of expanded marketing programs and a newer, larger resort will transform the casino from a geographically convenient place to play to a “preferred destination.”
The site of the proposed relocation of the casino and land-based resort will be announced soon. Wild Rose officials hope to gain approval for the new facility and start construction by late summer.
The gaming floor in the new casino would include 650 slot machines, 20 table games, a separate high-limit area and VIP lounge and a casino floor bar with table-top video poker machines. Other proposed amenities include a 45-room hotel, an Iowa Store, a sports bar with casual dining, a buffet for up to 250 people and banquet and meeting space.
The design and theme of the new facility will reflect Clinton’s heritage and incorporate materials and features native to the area including rough hewn limestone and heavy timber elements.
Wild Rose completed its acquisition of the Mississippi Belle II in tandem with the sale of the Catfish Bend Riverboat and Casino in Burlington to Huckleberry LLC. Huckleberry is a local investment company led and assembled by Randy Winegard of Burlington for the purposes of acquiring the Kehl family’s interest in Catfish Bend.
Wild Rose was founded by Iowa businessmen Gary Kirke and Michael Richards in 2004 to own gaming resorts and related businesses. Kirke is a respected and successful entrepreneur. Richards is a retired physician, healthcare executive and investor in several Iowa businesses. The two have teamed together to own and operate companies and investments in communities across Iowa including Orange City, Emmetsburg, Des Moines, West Des Moines and Clinton.
CLINTON — Clinton’s riverboat casino has new owners.