Dubuque entered a new era of gaming 25 years ago.
Slot machines debuted in November 1995 at Dubuque Greyhound Park.
The arrival of 526 slot machines followed a referendum one year earlier in which Dubuque County voters also authorized unlimited wagers and the removal of loss limits for the Diamond Jo Casino excursion boat.
Track officials had said they needed slot machines to stay in business.
Here is how the Telegraph Herald reported on the debut of slot machines in its Nov. 23, 1995, edition.
SLOTS OF FUN
After a year and a half of anticipation and negotiations, the bells rang and the tokens clanked Wednesday at Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino.
A new slot machine casino opened to a waiting group of patrons that filled the vestibule, and more streamed in as the doors opened at about 12:30 p.m.
It was a “soft opening” for the casino, with no fanfare but lots of anticipation by track and casino staff, who anxiously waited for the crowd to come through.
An official grand opening is planned for Nov. 30.
Dubuque County residents voted to allow slot machines at the track in a referendum in May 1994. Negotiations with the city’s riverboat operator, the Greater Dubuque Riverboat Entertainment Co., over ownership and management of the casino, and bringing a larger boat to the city, delayed casino plans.
With the issues resolved, the Dubuque Racing Association was waiting only for the arrival of the 526 slot machines and testing by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
The Dubuque Racing Association spent about $6 million remodeling the grandstand portion of the track with burgundy and green and neon all around. Another $6 million was spent on the 526 slot machines and equipment.
Some people appeared to be just checking out the place while others sat down immediately at slot machines.
“Considering it’s a Wednesday, it looks like a nice crowd,” said Bruce Wentworth, racing association general manager.
The casino stayed open until 2 a.m. today and will reopen at 9 a.m. The doors will stay open until 2 a.m. Monday.
Commission staff wrapped up a three-day period of testing Tuesday evening and then a staff meeting followed, Wentworth said.
“Without this opportunity, we’d be looking at an empty building,” he said. “With it comes over 150 new jobs and the opportunity to see a healthy bottom line.”
With $12 million in revenue expected annually from the operation, the racing association expects to make about $2 million by the end of the year. Half of that money will go to the City of Dubuque, 25% to charity and another 25% to a racing association fund to put back into the facility.
Duane Weyant, of Edgewood, Iowa, was surprised the casino didn’t have table games. Iowa law only allows slot machines at pari-mutuel tracks right now.
“I was just kind of curious,” Weyant said of his trip to the track.
Darren McCarthy, of Dubuque, came to see some friends he used to work with on the Silver Eagle Casino in East Dubuque, Ill.
“This is a little more wide open,” he said, comparing the track to riverboats.