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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (June 25, 1998)
Iowa’s version of Las Vegas manages
to copy city’s glitz, but not glamour
Story by TOM FOSTER
Photos by Mike Warren
HARVEY’S CASINO dealer Kelly Steskal jokes with John Horst (left) of Edgar, as
Karl Kerst of Crete, L.H. Evans of Pottstown, Pa., Sally DiBase of Omaha and Lloyd
Hoban of Mifflinburg, Pa., all play a game of Let it Ride at Harvey’s in Council
“I’m all about getting
something for nothing”
- Aaron Dupree
sophomore theater performance major
Council Bluffs, Iowa — A woman in a
shiny red blouse strides by, hair afloat at least
10 inches above her head.
The sparkles on her blouse outline a spade,
heart, club and diamond, all red. Her jeans hug
her tightly, as does her companion, an equally
sharp dressed man with tightly cropped white
hair. They survey the scene and head off in the
direction of 1,000 blinking slot machines.
It’s Memorial Day weekend, Sunday
night, and a severe thunderstorm rages out
side the Bluffs Run Casino in Council Bluffs,
Iowa. Inside, lightning and thunder give way
to the calls of more than 1,200 slots, live
entertainment, dog racing, thousands of peo
ple and of course, money. Heaps of money.
Every day, 24 hours a day, people con
verge in Council Bluffs with hopes of getting
lucky. In addition to Bluffs Run, a growing
casino corridor along the Missouri River
includes the Amenstar Casmo and Harvey's
Similar gambling havens have sprung up
m other nearby cities, including Kansas City
and Sioux City, Iowa.
The casinos do a brisk business in
Council Bluffs, and the money seems to keep
flowing in. A May 13 press release from
Amenstar reported net revenues of S24.1 mil
lion in the first quarter of 1998 alone. That
compares with S21.7 million in the same
three months of 1997. A March 23 news
release from Harvey’s reported remarkably
similar numbers, with first quarter net rev
enues of S26.6 million in 1998 and S22.6 mil
lion in 1997. Comparable figures were not
available from Bluffs Run.
But while the glitter of Las Vegas has invad
ed the heartland, the glamour seems to have
escaped. A look around Council Bluffs' gaming
community provides several examples.
Although Harvey’s and Ameristar each
have hotels attached, many gamblers opt for
less expensive accommodations. The casino
parking lots, complete with giant truck
spaces, are packed with 18-wheelers - the
kind with sleeping quarters in the cab. A near
by RV park offers S17 single stalls and S20
doubles. Several inexpensive motels line
Interstate 29 near the casinos. And of course,
the surrounding cities and countryside are the
home of most Council Bluffs gamers.
The scene inside Council Bluffs' casinos
reflects that ease of access. The throngs of
people are clad mostly in the work clothes of
middle America. The billowing silk shirts of
Las Vegas are replaced by faded, black con
cert T-shirts, many emblazoned w ith heavy
metal and country music icons. Polished
shoes are replaced by sneakers. Here, denim
is the fabric of choice.
Every flat surface is polished to a reflec
tive sheen. Plastic shrubbery sprouts from
large planters. And brass railings run along
the walls throughout. Harvey’s and Ameristar
both make their homes on elaborate river
boats, complete with late 1800s-style archi
tecture and countless neon lights.
While Bluffs Run specializes in slots and
greyhound racing, Harvey’s and Ameristar
offer traditional Las Vegas-style gaming tables.
Craps, blackjack, Spanish 21, Caribbean stud
and roulette are among the favorite pastimes of
Council Bluffs players. And for the game
weary or broke customers, some sort of free
entertainment is usually happening.
Outside, under the great blinking awning
at Bluffs Run, Ed Salazar of Omaha waits for
his wife of 46 years to finish playing the slots.
“The Misses, she gambles, but I don’t,” he
said. “I just come here because they feed
Salazar said he waited outside to encour
age his wife to hurry. She has never won big,
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