The Casino Queen Hotel and Casino now has more than 700 owners.
The East St. Louis casino's employees were able to take over the property after the Illinois Gaming Board approved the $170 million acquisition last week. As part of the deal, the employee's group assumes the casino's $31 million debt.
Former casino general manager and new casino President Jeff Watson said the move officially went into effect Wednesday. Watson said previous owners Casino Queen Inc., a group of private investors led by Jim Koman, had first mentioned exiting the company about two years ago.
The company is now operating as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP. It creates a trust for all participating employees, who now become beneficiaries of shareholder dividends.
"I think the important thing is now with this ESOP is all profits and all of the success in the company is to remain in the company and for the direct benefit of all the employees," Watson said.
Watson and chief financial officer Bob Barrows will serve as co-trustees of the new trust. Watson said it is the first casino ownership of its kind.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first ESOP casino in the country," he said. "We made a little history right here in East St. Louis."
The Casino Queen first opened to gamblers on a riverboat along the East St. Louis river front in 1993. In 2007, the riverboat was replaced by a new and adjacent $92 million casino. The 40,000-square-foot gaming floor includes 1,100 slot machines and 27 gaming tables.
According to the Illinois Gaming Board's 2011 Annual Report, the Casino Queen had a 4.8 percent drop in admissions between 2010 and 2011, from more than 2 million visitors in 2010 to more than 1.9 million the year before. Gross receipts at the metro-east casino also have declined in that span from more than $130.9 million in 2010 to $130.1 million in 2011.
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.