Thursday, Nov. 4, 1999 | 10:07 a.m. Stations casino.
Station Casino St. Charles plans to retire its riverboat, the Station Casino Belle, and replace it with an expanded gaming operation on its barge. The decision is the direct result of open boarding. Company officials said customers prefer gambling on the barge by almost a three-to-one margin.
"The dockside (barge) casino offers more Las Vegas-style, open gaming," said Tony Raymon, general manager of Casino St. Charles. "We get rid of six flights of stairs, and no more ramps. And all the air conditioning issues get resolved."
In April, when construction on the barge is complete, the Station Casino Belle will close, and Missouri's first dual-casino operation, will be back to one casino.
The Station Casino Belle has been permanently moored since state regulators eliminated cruising requirements in 1996. But it was built for cruising, by Houma Industries in Harvey, La. Station Casinos paid $26.5 million for it.
Sunset stations casino
This was the second boat used at St. Charles. The casino began operating in May 1994 with a boat that is still tied up there, waiting for a buyer that may never appear.
It was replaced with the Station Casino Belle late in 1994. That was also the time that Station opened a casino on the second floor of its barge.
Operating the barge and the Belle as legally distinct casinos gave Station an advantage over single-casino operations such as the Admiral. The barge and the Belle had staggered boarding times, so that customers never had to wait more than 15 minutes to enter one or the other.
But there was never any question about which they preferred. Gamblers didn't care about the opportunity to step outside on the boat's deck, catch some fresh air and watch the river. The wide, charming staircase on one end of the boat had no appeal, either.
And the boat has spots that are too dark, and some that are drafty in winter and warm in summer.
Building a casino on a barge is far cheaper. There are virtually no restrictions on width, so that all the tables and equipment can be on one floor. Higher ceilings are possible, making cigarette smoke less of a problem.
When the regulators eliminated boarding restrictions in August, most patrons chose to gamble on the barge. Two of the boat's three decks are now closed on weekdays.
On Jan. 4, Station will start a $3 million construction project to convert the first floor of its barge to a casino. When the work is completed, the company will have a little less casino space, but it will all be on the barge, using two floors, but one casino.
Stations casino employment
And two of the old riverboat casinos, the ones that actually moved, will be for sale.
Meanwhile, the company's major expansion nearby remains on indefinite hold, with the steel infrastructure in place next to the barge.