La Crosse treads water on floating casino issue

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published April 1, 1992  | April 1992 issue

When the Wisconsin legislature voted in March to make no changes in the state's existing gaming regulations, plans for a riverboat casino on the Mississippi River were dampened.

Gov. Tommy Thompson's special commission on gaming recommended four riverboat gambling locations be established, with La Crosse the only Mississippi River site. The commission also endorsed video gambling in restaurants and taverns. It's the latter issue that has caused a stalemate between the governor and the state Legislature on gambling legislation. And until riverboat gambling can be decided on its own merits, the city will have to wait.

"It's not a question of if, but of when riverboat gambling will be approved for Wisconsin," says Bill Sorenson, president of the Greater La Crosse Chamber of Commerce and member of the La Crosse riverboat gaming coalition. "Riverboat gambling will create a sense of excitement, whether this year or next."

La Crosse does a $93 million a year tourism business without riverboat gambling, Sorenson says. But conservative estimates indicate that a riverboat casino would increase annual revenue in the hospitality industry by about $20 million as follows:

  • lodging—$2 million;
  • dining revenues—$3.8 million;
  • sightseeing—$7.5 million;
  • evening entertainment—$1.3 million;
  • transportation—$1 million; and
  • retail shopping—$4.4 million.

With or without riverboat gaming, La Crosse business and community leaders are developing a master plan to revitalize the downtown business district and the riverfront. Plans are already under way for a 64-unit AmericInn riverfront hotel.

Other riverfront land is also ripe for development, fostering speculation that the arrival of a gaming riverboat would spur more hotel construction and riverfront amenities.

Kathy Cobb