The growth and history of the gambling industry in Iowa


It’s been 30 years since Iowa became the first US state to open riverboat casinos. With all of the developments in the recent news, the gambling entertainment industry has certainly evolved and developed since then.

It was back in April 1991 that the first of Iowa’s riverboat casinos took to the water – the Dubuque Casino Belle, The President, also in Dubuque, and the Diamond Lady in Bettendorf. Just a month later, the Emerald Lady launched in Burlington. Nowadays there are over 20 riverboat casinos in operation, from Council Bluffs to Sioux City. But, as the name suggests, of course, the originals needed to be out on the water. So, our great rivers the Mississippi and Missouri have borne witness to the ebbs and flows of wagering on the water.

Onto dry land…

Then, in 1994, our first Hawkeye State land-based casinos opened their doors. Like the riverboats, they offered the full range of games only previously seen in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Slot machines, poker, roulette, craps, blackjack – these dryland destinations became as popular as their floating counterparts. Between them, they’ve generated gaming tax revenue for the state totaling $6 billion since 1991, money that’s been allocated to pay for projects and programs that benefit each Iowan.

The riverboat and land casinos have also created thousands of jobs and account for up to 60% of tourists visiting our state, a real boon for the Iowan economy. Since 2004 riverboats can operate on moored barges rather than in open water. Many have taken advantage by opening partner hotels to host the surge of visitors to their locations.

Casinos closer to home

But how do they compare to the world of online gambling? This is an area of the gaming industry that’s excelled in recent years. Available wherever and whenever, online casinos offer not just the games you want to play but often sign-up and loyalty bonuses too. Now, the selection of the casino games available online has grown significantly as physical space is no longer a limiting factor. When you consider roulette for example, there are now various versions you can play, along with live and themed variants. This allows online casinos to experiment with new gameplay mechanics. Take live roulette, this is operated by a real human dealer, meaning you can watch the game play-out in real time.

Like our Iowan riverboat and brick-and-mortar casinos, online casinos began to emerge in the mid-90s – and how they’ve captured the attention of players worldwide! The worldwide web is not exclusive to Iowa, and is a shared resource across all nations. They don’t just offer the latest slots and table games but also create a virtual casino atmosphere and ambiance too. You can play for fun or play to win. And the variety of games available is phenomenal, from old school favorites to the most up-to-date releases from the biggest names.

Dive in

Sure, the riverboat and land casinos have moved with the times to develop their services for regulars and visitors alike. And sometimes you just can’t beat the thrill of being in a real-life casino. Yet we’re in the digital era now where the casino can come to you. Just ensure that you’re playing on a site that’s registered offshore, and it might be time to dip your toe, or simply dive straight into new gaming waters!