Alton Casino has been beating luck for 30 years

More than 450 passengers were on board that first night – September 24, 1991 – when the riverboat Alton Belle Casino opened. Former State Representative Jim McPike D-Alton pulled the first lever on a slot machine and said, “La Belle will breathe new life into Alton.”

Since then, the casino has taken a few deep breaths. It changed its name and owner, introduced new gambling and gambling options, and handled not one but two historic Mississippi River floods.

“We’ve come a long way in 30 years,” said Teresa Jones, a 30-year casino employee. “Load tokens and stuff on the boat – and now we don’t have that stuff anymore.”

The Alton Belle Casino was the first riverboat to offer legal gambling in Illinois. The three-deck boat would sail the Mississippi River with 600 passengers, 296 slot machines, and 22 gaming tables.

In 1993, the boat was replaced by a larger vessel, the Alton Belle II. To respond to changes in Illinois law, the boat sailed for an hour each day. Seven years later, Illinois allowed casinos to be docked permanently. But if the Alton casino no longer sailed on the river, it remains today a real boat.

Last week, Argosy Casino Alton took a break to celebrate its many longtime employees, such as Jones, Tina Downing, Denny Crank, Lisa Longo, Joy Conlee and Jeff Warr. They shared what it was like when the riverboat game arrived in Alton.

“It was exciting, fast-paced and busy,” Jones said.

“It was like a new world,” Crank said.

Over the past 30 years, the casino has adapted to gaming trends and advanced technology. His long-time staff said he too has learned to adapt constantly.

“There is always continuous change,” Downing said. “You’re just going with the flow. “

Conlee said the group has been close since joining the casino.

“We have always considered each other as family,” she said.

This family survived two historic floods: the Great Flood of 1993 and the floods of 2019.

During the first flood, the casino still managed to cross the river. While parts of Alton’s business district were underwater for weeks, Alton Belle Casino created makeshift long walkways that allowed patrons to reach the boat from land.

On August 8, 1993, the Mississippi River at Alton reached 42.72 feet, more than double its flood level of 21 feet. As a ship, the casino was subject to Coast Guard regulations and it sailed. Its employees took the makeshift paths to get inside or paddled to their jobs.

The 2019 flood, however, brought new challenges with the docked casino inaccessible. This time the river peaked at 39.01 feet on June 9, 2019. Flooding forced Argosy Casino Alton to close for 43 days in May and June, finally reopening on June 22.

The casino was also forced to close briefly in December 2008 when it was struck by a barge that came loose from its moorings. The pressure from the ice broke a cable, causing the barge to float until it came to rest against the casino employee cafeteria.

But casino veterans said their biggest challenge had nothing to do with the river. It was COVID-19.

“It was a nightmare, not only personally but for business,” Downing said.

On March 12, 2020, Argosy Casino Alton became the second casino in Illinois to offer sports betting. Four days later, Governor JB Pritzker suspended all casino gambling in the state due to the pandemic.

State COVID-19 regulations have silenced casinos in Illinois for most of 2020. A short period of limited gambling in late summer was interrupted by increased mitigation measures that have eventually allowed Alton Casino to reopen on January 23, 2021 – albeit with limited services and hours.

“The latter (closing) was the most difficult, as most of the users vacationed together here,” Downing said.

The casino has also had to step up its gaming to compete with hundreds of gaming terminals across Madison County and last year’s major investment by sports betting giant FanDuel in Collinsville Racecourse.

In total, Illinois now has 10 casinos and Missouri has 13. Players have many choices, which emphasizes customer service at Argosy Casino Alton.

Despite the challenges, however, Alton’s longtime employees are excited about the casino’s future. Rashad Wilson, chief marketing officer, said the casino will soon open a sports lounge on the second floor, hoping to have it available by the end of the month.

Amid the pandemic, the casino in August recorded 35,101 admissions and $ 2,988,033 in adjusted gross revenue in total. Of that money, $ 369,002 went to the state and $ 184,501 to Alton.

For 2021 to date, the casino has recorded 236,338 admissions and $ 20,966,628 in total adjusted gross revenue. Of that money, $ 2,569,338 went to the state and $ 1,284,669 to Alton.

The casino currently offers over 800 gaming devices, ranging from slot machines to video poker. In addition, it offers 12 table games, including blackjack, craps, roulette, three-card poker and Texas Hold’em.

Argosy Casino Alton is also home to The Hop House, which has selected local brand beers as well as sandwiches, appetizers, salads and platters.

About Joel Simmons

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