The opening of the new $110 million Rhythm City Casino Resort on June 16 was attended by more than 1,000 guests, while outside gamblers eager to try their luck at Iowa’s newest casino lined up in droves.

The new Las Vegas-inspired casino is located in Davenport, and while the facility may be new, it is far from the Kehl family’s first business endeavor.

The Kehl family business didn’t begin on water, however, it began in the 1960’s with the purchase of a café in downtown Dubuque, which Bob and Ruth Kehl also ran. The Kehls were in the catering business by the 1970’s and in 1973 purchased the “River Rogue,” a 150-passenger sternwheeler, for dinner cruises, according to the Rhythm City Casino Resort. It was the first of five the Kehls would purchase over the next 13 years, each bigger than the last, and in 1986 President Reagan awarded the Kehls with the National Small Business of the Year Award.

Late in the 1980’s, when the idea of riverboat gambling was airing in the state’s Legislature, the fact that the Kehl’s were opposed to gambling on the rivers due to the obvious threat to their riverboat business wasn’t a secret. The Kehls soon realized that it was likely to happen and that they were better prepared than anyone to get in on the ground floor of the new industry. And on March 8, 1990, after the state became the first to pass legislation to allow riverboat gambling (1989), the Kehl’s Dubuque Casino Belle, Inc., was granted the state’s first riverboat gaming operator’s license. On April 1, 1990, the license was issued and it became the first American vessel of its kind in the United States.

It wasn’t long after, that the Kehls had their second license in hand and in 1991 the Mississippi Belle II was licensed and began gaming operations in Clinton, Iowa. In total, the Kehls operated and had interests in four riverboat casinos in the Midwest including, the Mississippi Belle II, Dubuque Casino Belle, Saint Joe Frontier Casino, St. Joe, Missouri, and the Catfish Bend Casino, Fort Madison/Burlington.

The Kehl family, along with a group of investors from Iowa (RC Casino, LLC) acquired the Rhythm City Casino Resort on February 3, 2014, from Isle of Capri Casinos and part of the plans were to replace the riverboat with a land-based casino resort in Davenport easily accessible to both I-80 and I-74. The new casino resort features a six-story hotel with 106 rooms, a 33,800-square-foot gaming floor with designated nonsmoking and smoking areas, 800 slot machines, 30 gaming tables, a 1,500-seat event center, three restaurants, pool, and Aveda spa.

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