Iowa was the first state to legalize riverboat gambling. The boats began operating on April Fools Day in 1991 and passengers were originally limited to $5 per bet with a maximum loss of $200 per person, per cruise. Because of these restrictions several boats later moved to Mississippi which offered 24-hour, no-limit, dockside gambling. In September 1991 the first riverboats began operating in the bordering state of Illinois and these boats didn't have Iowa's restrictive bet or loss limits. The increased competition from these boats cut deeply into the profitability of the Iowa boats and in early 1994 the Iowa legislature voted to eliminate the gambling restrictions. Additionally, a provision was added to allow slot machines (no video poker) to be placed at the state's four pari-mutuel facilities, subject to voter approval. The slot machine measure passed in referendums in three of the four affected counties.
Here's information, as supplied by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, showing the electronic gaming machine payback percentages for all non-Indian locations for the 2000 fiscal year from July 1, 1999 through June 30, 2000:
LOCATION PAYBACK % Bluffs Run 94.73 Prairie Meadows 94.22 President 94.22 Harvey's 94.14 Ameristar 93.88 Dubuque Diamond Jo 93.88 Isle of Capri - Bettendorf 93.80 Dubuque Greyhound 93.66 Isle of Capri - Marquette 93.50 Belle of Sioux City 93.38 Mississippi Belle II 92.87 Catfish Bend 92.51
These figures reflect the total percentages returned by each riverboat casino or pari-mutuel facility for all of its electronic machines including: slots, video poker, video keno, etc. As you can see, Bluffs Run returned the most to their players, while Catfish Bend returned the least. Admission to all Iowa riverboat casinos is free. Most boats cruise from June through October and remain dockside from November through May although there might be slight differences in those schedules among the various boats.
Iowa is also home to three Indian casinos. Unless otherwise noted, all riverboats and Indian casinos offer: blackjack, roulette, craps, slots and video poker. Some casinos also offer: mini-baccarat (MB), poker (P), pai gow poker (PGP), Caribbean stud poker (CSP), let it ride (LIR), big 6 (B6), bingo (BG), keno (K), three card poker (TCP) and Spanish 21 (S21). The minimum gambling age is 21. For more information on visiting Iowa call the state's tourism department at (800) 345-4692
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