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First area casino weighs anchor

DATE OF EVENT: Wednesday, June 22, 1994

DATE PUBLISHED: Thursday, June 23, 1994, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: Argosy Casino was the first to open after voters approved riverboat gambling in August of 1993. Harrah’s would join Argosy on the river in 1994, and nine more casinos would be proposed before the end of the year.

The Argosy V hit the jackpot at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday when the Missouri Gaming Commission made it the first floating casino to open in western Missouri.

Within hours, nearly 650 people ventured to the riverside in Riverside to take part in the official maiden cruise of the riverboat casino.

“I’m having fun,” Janice Hayes of Kansas City said as she worked two video poker machines less than 20 minutes after boarding the riverboat.

“Just the thrill of that,” she said, pointing at her brother’s video poker machine as a few tokens rattled into the tray. “That sound sounds so good. Everybody seems so happy.”

Just then, the Hayes family got a lot happier.

“I got five jacks,” Marvin Hayes yelled.

He hit the jackpot with four jacks and a wild card on a $1.25 bet. The machine returned 1,000 tokens worth $200…

But not everyone enjoyed the two-hour gambling extravaganza.

“I wasn’t impressed at all,” said Joseph Arseneau Sr. of Kansas City, North. “The ship is nice, the people are nice, but I saw too many mistakes (by dealers).”

Hours before the cruise, the five-member gaming commission unanimously voted to grant operating licenses to the Argosy V. It also unanimously approved operating licenses for the St. Jo Frontier Casino, which can’t open until Friday because of a glitch in receiving final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We’re just thrilled that we have our license,” said Michael Karr, general manager of the Argosy Riverside Casino.

With little fanfare, the Argosy tentatively scheduled its first public cruise for 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Somehow, nearly 650 persons found out about that first voyage.

Forty-five minutes before the cruise began, a clump of about 100 persons crowded near the boarding gate.

“I thought it was a novelty,” said Ray Holmes of Independence, who was in line for his boarding pass. “Right now I’m just checking it out.”…

While passengers eagerly loaded up on tokens and hunkered down in front of video blackjack machines, Riverside officials started dreaming about spending their $600,000 jackpot from Argosy.

That payment was part of Argosy’s agreement with Riverside, said Mayor Betty Burch. The city also gets $1 for each passenger, a $396,000 annual lease payment and a portion of the sales taxes collected throughout the casino complex.

And the riverboat passengers and 850 employees of the casino complex must drive through Riverside to get to the Argosy V.

The payments and sales taxes could equal about $750,000 a year, Burch said.

“It’s a kick start for what we need,” she said Wednesday. “We’re pretty conservative. We don’t spend our money until we get it.”

Meanwhile, more than 450 potential blackjack and craps dealers began their second week of school for Harrah’s Casino North Kansas City. Classes run from early morning until nearly midnight, said Michael St. Pierre, a company spokesman.

“A lot of our new dealers have other jobs,” St. Pierre said. “So we’ve put ourselves out a little bit to get them trained.”