A riverboat casino is exactly what it sounds like: a casino on a riverboat. These exist in several US states, through which the Mississippi River flows. There are also some along the Gulf Coast. A few states allowed this type of casino to limit the areas where casinos could be built without outlawing gambling. The riverboats were rarely moved away from the port, if ever.
History of riverboat casinos
Riverboats with paddlewheels had long been used on the Mississippi and its tributaries to transport cargo and people. After they were largely displaced by railroads, they became more popular for short trips, up to a few hours long, than as transport from one riverfront town to another. They were also a way to enjoy live music and dancing and find a cool place to relax, away from the scorching urban heat.
On riverboats, gambling was far from uncommon
There were card games, slot machines, and more. When states approved riverboat casinos in the late 20th century, and land-based gaming was generally prohibited, these casinos had to be located on ships. In some areas, gambling was legal only when the boat was not docked, as in the traditional trips. Riverboat casinos were allowed in states like Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri. In Illinois, they were also allowed in the Chicago metropolitan area, which is connected to the Mississippi River via the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. There are three ‘riverboat’ casinos in harbors along Lake Michigan in Indiana.
A curious event
A situation on the border between Virginia and Maryland led to an unusual event on the Potomac River around 1950. The border is at the low water mark on the Virginia side, not in the middle of the river. In fact, the whole river is practically in Maryland with the exception of a few small areas in the District of Columbia. Due to this, there were several riverboat casinos docked off of the Virginia shoreline in the middle of the 20th century. At this time, gambling was not legal in Virginia, but it was legal in parts of Maryland. Considering that the river was in Maryland, people could park in Virginia and walk across a pier, thereby crossing the border between the states.
Developments in the 90s
In 1994, Missouri changed its state constitution to authorize “games of chance” on the two rivers running through the state: the Mississippi and the Missouri. Four years later, just three of the 16 operations comprising Missouri’s riverboat gambling industry, already worth more than $600 million, were clearly on the main river channel according to the state’s gambling watchdog, the Gaming Commission. The supreme court of the state had ruled that riverboats had to be “solely over and in contact with the surface” of the rivers.
A number of operators had been located on riverboats in an area with water by a navigable waterway or a moat, due to which they were referred to as “boats in moats.” The state legislatures were not inclined to waive the high revenues gambling generated. With time, they let casinos be constructed on stilts, but they had to be located over navigable water.
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed most riverboat casinos in 2005 along with their associated facilities of restaurants, hotels, and more in southern states, a number of them amended their constitutions or changed their legislation. They allowed casinos to be constructed on land near a navigable waterway. Most of the riverboat casinos on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast have been rebuilt on beachfronts with stable foundations after the hurricane.
The future of riverboat casinos
Riverboat casinos will always be a popular form of entertainment along the Mississippi. People can enjoy playing in these historic paddleboat gaming hubs in Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and Mississippi as this mighty river flows across many different state lines. It is the second-longest river in North America, flowing out from its estuary in Lake Itasca, Minnesota through the heart of the country and flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Its total length is 2,350 miles.
The mighty river was the center of economic activity in the 19th century south. This geographical region was famous for the paddle steamers that used to cruise up and down the Mississippi long before online casinos existed.