Twenty years and counting: Casino Queen keeps on keeping on

News-DemocratJune 22, 2013 

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Casino Queen, which has come a long way from the riverboat that was once docked along the East St. Louis riverfront.

The four-story, 19th century replica riverboat made its maiden voyage on the Mississippi River on June 23, 1993. It was vacated about five years ago for a new $92 million, 207,500-square-foot floating casino that floats atop a pool filled with 12 inches of water where cars once parked.

Casino president and general manager Jeff Watson has been a part of the casino for the past 12 years and reflected on the impact the gambling venue has had on the metro-east:

How much tax revenue has the casino generated?

Tax revenues for the state and city of East St. Louis have topped $969 million and are on target to reach $1 billion before the end of this year. The city has received $188 million in gaming taxes alone over the past 20 years, making up 40 percent of the city's budget each year. Depending on the year and market conditions, the casino's annual gaming tax revenue to the city is between $8 to $10 million. An additional $26.5 million in property taxes have been generated over that same time span.

How many people does the casino employ?

The Casino Queen employs 700 individuals, 92 percent of whom work full-time and receive benefits. Last year's payroll totaled $24.1 million, and more than $645 million in total wages and $112 million in total benefits have been paid over the past 20 years.

Who owns the casino?

The employees. As of last Dec. 26, the casino is 100 percent employee owned. The Casino Queen is the only locally owned and employee-owned casino in the nation.

How much has the casino spent in capital improvements?

More than $220.8 million in capital improvements have been made on the East St. Louis riverfront over the past 20 years and an additional $366 million has been spent on equipment, supplies, services and vendors expenditures.

How much does the casino give back to local charities?

The casino has contributed more than $10.7 million in charitable donations from 1993 through 2012. Last year, the casino donated more than $578,000 to charities.

How is the casino celebrating its 20th anniversary?

The casino will give 25 patrons the chance to win $250,000 throughout June. Every Wednesday throughout the month, the casino is offering food specials and the chance to win a free gift each week.

What happened to the old riverboat?

The four-story side-wheeler was sold to Cedar Bay Entertainment in Branson, Mo., in 2008. In October of that year, the old riverboat left the East St. Louis riverfront and was docked upriver at Mike's Inc. in Hartford, where it remains today. After the purchase, the new owners initially announced plans to convert the riverboat into a half-scale model of the Titanic. But Cedar Bay Entertainment President John Joslyn said those plans have been scrapped and the vessel will be used for another attraction. Joslyn declined to comment further, but said the former riverboat will be moved in the next four to six weeks and relocated to a new permanent, but undisclosed, site by next year.

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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