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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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The Dubuque Casino Belle was the city's first riverboat casino. Photo Courtesy: Bob Reding.
DUBUQUE CASINO BELLE. In 1989 with increasing numbers of tourists to Dubuque and talk of legalized gambling in Iowa along the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, Robert KEHL began plans to build a casino gambling boat and $3.9 million on-shore facility based in Dubuque. In 1990 the DUBUQUE RACING ASSOCIATION, a non-profit organization, with the Dubuque Casino Belle, Inc. received the first riverboat gambling license in the state of Iowa.

Constructed at a total cost of $12 million (including gaming equipment) and larger than a football field, the 387- foot riverboat had four passenger decks and was finished in a Victorian era decor. U.S. Coast Guard-certified to carry 2,000 passengers, the Dubuque Casino Belle was reportedly the first American-flagged vessel to receive a license for casino gambling. Although designed to resemble a 19th century sidewheeler, the Dubuque Casino Belle was fitted with a modern screw propulsion.

The Belle had three casinos, two on her main deck and one on her Hurricane Deck. Her Hurricane Deck also included a 272-seat theater lounge and bar, children's play area, souvenir gift shop, and management offices.

One deck below on the Boiler Deck, passengers had a choice of two dining rooms—the forward dining salon with 292-seat capacity and the larger aft dining salon with 352-seat capacity. Both were be served by a full galley and scullery located aft. Crew quarters and lounge are also located aft.

With the addition of the Dubuque Casino Belle April 1 and the advent of year-round gambling on the Mississippi Belle II, Roberts River Rides employment jumped from 150 in 1990 to 525 in 1991.

During 1990 season, more than 250,000 people cruised with Roberts River Rides.



Length Overall----387 feet

Hull Depth-------- 11 feet

Speed------------- 12 miles per hour


A casino chip from the Dubuque Casino Belle. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding.
Opening day program. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding.