Belterra Casino

Guests rate Belterra Casino opener a winner

By Don Ward

FLORENCE, Ind. • After months of anticipation and a two-month-long delay, the $200 million Belterra Casino Resort held its first in a series of six "shake-down" cruises Oct. 23 with more than 7,000 VIPs and invitation-only guests taking part. 
Two days later, the $55 million boat opened to the public after obtaining final approval from the Indiana Gaming Commission, whose officials observed the activity Oct. 23. By week's end, Belterra was operating nine cruises daily.
After a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony in the long hallway leading to the boarding gate, hundreds of guests filed onto the recently repaired Miss Belterra casino boat, sampling what is expected to be a new era in tourism and economic development for Switzerland County. The county anticipates receiving about $1.1 million a month from gaming taxes.


After disembarking the boat, guests dined at one of the five restaurants in the complex and toured hotel rooms. "This place is great; it's beautiful. It just goes to show you what can be accomplished if you keep at something long enough," said Madison's Alan Long, who participated in efforts to lobby the state for Indiana's 10th casino license. "If it couldn't be in Jefferson County, I'm glad it went to Switzerland County."
Others echoed that sentiment as guest from many surrounding counties and other states boarded the boat and sat down to play slot machines or tables games on one of two levels of gaming areas. Others milled around outside atop the boat or on its roomy bow overlooking the Ohio River and Belterra's nearby 15-story, 308-room hotel. The Miss Belterra provides 38,000 square feet of gaming space that includes 57 table games and 1,350 slot machines. There's also a stage for live entertainment and a snack bar on board. The boat's can hold up to 2,700 passengers and 300 crew members.

Originally, the casino was expected to open in August. But a July 31 early morning collision of the Miss Belterra with a barge on its way up the Mississippi River to Florence forced a two-month-long delay. The boat was taken to New Orleans for costly repairs to the computer and security systems on board. Then it again took off for the eight-day cruise to its new home in Florence, Ind.
"This time there were no problems; everything went very smoothly," said boat Capt. Ed Utterback. "We're glad this day is finally here," said Cliff Kortman, director of development for Pinnacle Entertainment, Belterra's Glendale, Calif.-based parent company. "Everyone has worked hard to pull this all together, especially after the collision to the boat. The biggest challenge now is to get an adequate labor force."
After the ceremony, Pinnacle Entertainment president and CEO Paul Alanis said, "I'm proud of our accomplishment of getting open by Oct. 23 after what we've been through. I'm proud of this facility. You probably heard me get a little choked up at the podium because the building of this casino has been my life for the last few years. I've taken part in personally deciding on nearly everything you see here, right down to the chandeliers." Kortman said famed golf course designer Tom Fazio had visited the property the previous week to help layout the 18th hole of Belterra's new golf course, scheduled to open in fall 2001. 
"We've already got grass growing on 14 holes," Kortman said. "We started with flat farmland and have created 67 feet of elevation by moving around 1 million yards of dirt."
About 2,000 trees from the property also have been moved to new locations, and 20 acres of wetlands and four lakes were created, he said. On opening day, nearly all the restaurants were open. Some gift shops, the health spa and 1,500-seat theater are expected to open within a few weeks. Belterra already has booked the band Alabama for Thanksgiving weekend and the Doobie Brothers in early December.
Meanwhile, local officials beamed about the money that will soon start coming into the community from the casino. Switzerland County council president Mike Jones said Belterra already had infused about $4 million into the community prior to opening.
Three neighboring counties; Crawford, Ripley and Jefferson; will receive a portion of revenue from the casino as well. Jefferson alone is expected to reap $1.1 million annually. Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. executives recently announced its merger with a subsidiary of Harveys Casino Resorts, but Kortman said the merger, when finalized near the end of the year, won't affect operations at Belterra since Pinnacle's current management team will remain in place.

• Admission to the casino boat is free, but reservations are required for the 90-minute cruises.

Back to November 2000 Articles.



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