Oct. 20--Evansville's $50 million land-based casino officially opened Friday morning, and it was immediately packed with gamers and dignitaries who couldn't wait to take a look.
They noticed a radically different environment from the three-story riverboat that's expected to depart in a few days.
The new Tropicana Evansville casino is a spacious single floor with two new restaurants and a nightclub, along with high ceilings and modern, sparkling, lavish fixtures.
Guests came from near and far. David and Cheryl Goshen drove all the way from St. Louis, in search of good luck.
"It's gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous," Cheryl Goshen said of the brand-new building.
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly mingled in the crowd. So did Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch of Evansville. Crouch was Vanderburgh County Auditor in 1995 when the riverboat, then known as Casino Aztar, was opened. It was Indiana's first casino.
Crouch said the facility is impressive, "and it speaks to the commitment and the investment Tropicana has made in Evansville, and to the public-private partnerships that have been established under Mayor Lloyd Winnecke."
In advance of Friday's grand opening, city and Tropicana officials promoted the new facility as a multi-faceted entertainment venue and not just a place to gamble.
Tap House is a new full-service restaurant with dozens of beers on tap. The Deli is a 24/7 eatery with freshly made sandwiches. And 421 is a live performance venue and dance club.
"It's fantastic. It's certainly exceeded my expectations," said Tony Rodio, President and CEO of Tropicana Entertainment. "The beauty of this compared to what we were delivering before on the boat is, you can come here and not put a penny in a slot machine and still have a wonderful night, whether it's dinner or entertainment in the lounge or just people-watching. I think it's a great experience."
That is a growing emphasis at gaming facilities across the U.S., Rodio said. "Gaming has really proliferated across the country, so it's critical to diversify the experience and offer more than just slot machines and table games."
Tropicana employs about 700 people, three-fourths of whom are Vanderburgh County residents. And 52 of those workers have been with the company since the Casino Aztar riverboat made its debut on Dec. 8, 1995.
Lynn Strickland worked third shift, answering telephones, when Casino Aztar arrived. She's now the company's revenue manager.
She said she remembers "the crowds, the excitement" when the riverboat opened, and "we mimicked that again today. People have been lining up out front all morning. In a way, this is even more exciting because we have the glitz and glam. We had it on the boat, but it didn't compare to this."
Tropicana Evansville has sold the riverboat casino, but company officials have not given any more details due to a confidentiality agreement. They have said the sale is likely to close Oct. 30, and the vessel will depart that day or soon thereafter.
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