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The Facts and Fantasy of Riverboat GamblingBy Shane Addinall Jul 14, 2020Riverboat casinos have a strong American pedigree and have managed to stand the test of time for over 100 years. While modern trends have changed the way the boats operate, they still provide a unique gambling experience.
Gambling has an interesting past and has been prevalent around the world since ancient times. As long as people have been competitive, crude ways of gambling have been around.
Casino gaming is only a few hundred years old and has undergone many facets of change over the years. Commercial casinos are usually tied back to the USA eventually. American gambling culture is like no other in the world.
Gambling in the Old West, in grubby saloons, has become a stereotypical image of traditional Americana but travel a little way south and you will find that paddlewheel riverboats provide a succinct betting pictorial as well. Famous movies, like Mel Gibson’s 1994 film Maverick, pays tribute to the riverboat casino world and provides a great picture of the sort of shady environment that was attached to the industry in its earlier days.
While paddlewheel boats represent a vintage era in American history, they are still found in number along the Mississippi River, providing gambling entertainment in the modern era. They generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax revenues in six states along the river lines, including Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Indiana, and Missouri.
History of Riverboat Casinos
In the 19th Century, there was a strong trade route established between the towns lying across America’s longest river – the Mississippi. As a result, the waterways were busy with traditional paddlewheel vessels, which traders and passengers would use to commute effortlessly along the trade route. They accommodated mostly wealthy merchants and businessmen in the beginning, though professional gamblers soon made these vessels their marketplace.
Gambling was first introduced to the vessels as a cure for boredom on the often tediously long journeys up the waterway. Passengers would use their available spare time to engage in games of chance, like poker and other card offerings. The presence of money and the need for entertainment made gambling the natural choice among the elite. As these gambling pastimes became more prevalent, it started attracting professional gamblers from far and wide.
Gambling professionals were not well tolerated though and were regarded largely as cheats. Because the waters were not regulated, it allowed for gamblers to move around unchecked. This resulted in strong reactions from the public who were commonly bamboozled out of their money. It is understood that ‘lynch-law’ was used to deal with alleged transgressors at the time.
The Decline in Riverboat usage
Towards the end of the 19th century, railroads superseded boat travel as a mode of transport. Train travel was far faster and proved more convenient for business. That along with the American Civil war stymied the riverboat transport business in the states.
As a result, the riverboat industry turned towards the leisure market, offering travellers the opportunity of taking cruises – a form of escape from the mundanities of life. The gambling affiliation attached to the boats never died out though and gambling became a primary form of entertainment on these cruises.
Many states started outlawing gambling within their regions to protect their residents from problem gambling and to curb gambling associated crimes. Because the riverways were effectively a borderline between states, the boats would take advantage of the fact that they were treated like a no man’s land which provided the perfect grey area jurisdiction for betting trade. Gambling was practiced with no interference from the authorities.
Most forms of gambling were outlawed in the USA by the end of the Second World War and it wasn’t until the 1980s before the first states started legalising gambling over waterways. Iowa was the pioneer for the introduction of this form of regulated gambling in 1989 but was followed by Illinois and Louisiana in 1991 and Mississippi, Indiana, and Missouri by the end of 1993.
In each of these areas, casino gaming was expressly forbidden on land. Only boats on areas of water could offer this form of play. Initially, they could only offer slots and table games while the boats were cruising on the waterways, but later on, it was decided that docked boats could offer gaming too, which was far safer and more secure for the consumers.
The purpose of restricting gambling to boats on waterways was done to limit the geographic and economic scope of gambling within the states. This way, the industry could be better controlled.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of uniformity in the industry from one border to the next. Areas in the laws that vary include things such as:
- The appearance of the boats and the technical requirements: In Louisiana, the boats must resemble the traditional paddlewheel vessels of the 19th century and must be driven either fully or partially by a paddlewheel mechanism. The number of passengers the vessel must be able to carry also varies greatly from one region to the next.
- Betting Restrictions: Bet limits and loss limits are set by each state independently and may vary greatly.
- Geographical Restrictions: In most of the states, it is only lawful for gambling to take place while the boat is in transit, however, some have questioned the safety of this and allow the ships to be docked at the time of game commencement as long as the boat is still on the water.
- Licenses: The number of authorised casinos is set independently by each state. Where Louisiana will not license more than 15 casinos, Illinois will only grant up to 10 permits.
Each of the 6 states that have legalised Riverboat gambling have done so independently which has led to these differences and variations.
Riverboat Casinos Today
Over three decades in and the riverboat casino industry is still thriving and producing strong revenues for each state. They remain a great avenue for job creation while providing an iconic traditional American experience – one that speaks to the heritage of the country.
As of 2018, there are 63 Riverboat Casinos in 6 states. This includes both docked boats and those that traverse the rivers while gaming is at hand. These are however not the only form of River Casinos available anymore.
Several casinos are located on boats situated in a moat or a waterway that has adjacent access to the main waterway. The government has turned a blind eye to these, as they prove lucrative for the coffers. In some areas, the government has allowed water-based casinos to move away from boats. These operators have been allowed to build their casino establishments on stilts above the river, as long as they are situated over the water as stated in the legislation.
Perhaps the biggest factor for the change in the scope of riverboat casinos was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm winds destroyed most of the riverboat casinos and their facilities along the Gulf Coast of the country. In some states, such as Mississippi, the legislation was changed to allow the casinos to be rebuilt on land if they were within proximity to the waterway. Most of the destroyed operators have rebuilt their casinos.
One of a Kind Experience
The old-school atmosphere of Riverboat casinos provides players with a totally unique gambling experience, allowing them to traverse back in time and experience true American history. The traditional architecture ensures that all gamers can experience what it was like to gamble over 100 years ago. You’ve seen it in the movies, but you can experience it in real life, too.
The boats offer luxury amenities, including bars, restaurants, spas, gyms, hotels, and access to hundreds of slot games and skill-based gaming tables, like poker, blackjack, and roulette.
Online Riverboat Dream
Such is the premium experience of Riverboat gambling that the theme has managed to traverse the realms of the physical and has found a place to wow digital casino gamers via the internet at online casino sites like the River Belle.
If you cannot travel to the United States at this time, the online casino owners have made sure that you can enjoy the next best thing from the comfort of your own home.
River Belle has been around since 1997 and was designed with the authentic riverboat feel in place. It provides all the modern perks you have come to expect from online casinos, such as improved return to player ratios, competitive bonuses, and modern, engaging slots and virtual table games.
Ride the River to the End
The riverboat legacy holds a special place in the hearts of sentimental Americans and there is no evidence that this type of casino experience will die out any time soon. While the legislation on this form of gambling seems to evolve every few years, the base values remain intact, in a well-regulated and now safe gambling environment.
The industry seeks to maintain its heritage in one hand while grasping for modern convenience in the other, ensuring customer satisfaction all the way.
Tagsriverboat gambling riverboat casinos river belle casino casino games paddlewheel vessel mel gibson maverick gambling entertainment online casinos professional gamblers gamblers gambling casino gaming louisiana mississippi
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