The History Of Riverboat Gambling

The History Of Riverboat Gambling

05 May 2009 | 10:59 Author: Francesca Soler

It might seem like eons ago but long before online gambling hit the ground running, riverboat gambling was one of the only ways patrons could gamble legally other than gambling in brick and mortar casinos in Vegas and Atlantic City. In our article, we go through what a riverboat casino is, where they’re typically found and the history of riverboat gambling.

What is a Riverboat Casino?

riverboat gamblerAs you’ve probably guessed, a riverboat casino is a casino which is set in a paddlewheel boat (and sometimes even barrages in States they’re allowed). These types of water-borne gambling palaces typically house a variety of casino games that you’d usually find at their brick and mortar counterparts. However, this entirely depends on the legislations in place.

Riverboat Casinos are found in various different states across America where they have managed to gain legal authority to operate such casinos. These states include Iowa, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, Indiana and Missouri. Most of the riverboat casinos in these states operate on the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Casino Games that are usually offered are by riverboat casinos are Slots and table games such as Blackjack, Roulette, Baccarat and Craps.

Did You Know The Riverboat Casino is a Popular Online Casino Theme?

Several internet casinos today use the classic riverboat theme for their casinos. That said you can still find several riverboat casinos in business in America - not just the replicas that can be found in Las Vegas hotels.

Riverboat Gambling History

As many of you reading this know, gambling at land-based casinos has had its ups and downs in the eyes of the law. Yet, through it all, it’s survived and its popularity has flourished throughout the ages. Now for casinos found on river vessels, this of course is the more or less the same. Riverboat gambling has been around since the 19th century but became even more popular in the 20th century. Have a look below to find out more about riverboat gambling history!


In the early 19th Century, the Mississippi river provided an efficient method for transporting goods from state to state and so became a major center for trade. Since trade centers attract people with money, the Mississippi also attracted professional gamblers.

In the U.S., in the 20th Century, riverboat gambling served a very specific purpose. Since many states had (and in some cases still have) laws that prohibit most types of gambling on dry land, gaming on the water had arisen as an alternative. Some riverboat casinos did not even go anywhere but were rather docked a sufficient distance from the mainland to avoid legal problems.

The Early Riverboat Gambler

A classic image of the American frontier era is that of a group of riverboat gamblers with cards in their hands and cigars in their mouths as they chatted away and played their favorite table game at one of the many riverboat casinos found in the States. At the time, a professional gambler was very often a card sharp i.e. a cheat who manipulated cards to achieve their desired result. Of course, as you’ve probably envisioned this was highly frowned upon in the 19th century. In fact, in 1935, five card sharps or tricksters as many historians call them that were caught in the act of card manipulation were hanged as a result of their deceit.

Naturally, as you’d expect, many of the other card sharps in America were reluctant to spend time ashore. Instead, they’d spend much of their time aboard these water-borne gambling havens traveling from place to place and exercising their trade on these riverboats in safety.

20TH CENTURY & Modern Riverboat Casinos

riverboat gambling

The 20th century marks the beginning of the legalization of riverboat casinos. Out of all the American States where riverboat gambling had been popular prior to this, Iowa was the first State to witness its rebirth with the first legal riverboat casino being seen in 1989. In 1991, Illinois and Louisiana followed suit. However, laws pertaining to riverboat gambling in the two states differed in nature.

In Louisiana, the court ruled that riverboat gambling activity could only be conducted on ships which were capable of carrying at least 600 passengers and were at least 120 feet with a historical appearance. The State also ruled that the boat must make regular runs on the river and also imposed the maximum amount of riverboat casinos allowed to operate in the State to 15.

In the State of Illinois, however, patrons had to wait until the boat was fully boarded and embarked away from the shore before they engaged in gambling activities to play Blackjack, Online Craps, Roulette or any other games available at the casino.

In 1992, a law was enacted in Indiana allowing riverboat gambling to take place. According to the legislation in this State, riverboat casinos are allowed in the Ohio River. These casinos can either be historic or modern ships of at least 150 feet which accommodate a minimum number of 500 passengers.

Following the legalization of riverboat gambling in these four states, Mississippi opted for the legalization of riverboat gambling a mere few years later, in 1994, when Missouri saw voters in the State voted for ‘games of chance’ on the Mississippi and its rivers to be allowed. According to the court ruling, riverboat casinos had to be “solely over and in contact with the surface” of the rivers. As in the other two States mentioned before, both slots games, as well as table games, were (and still) are usually permitted. Yet, according to Mississippi legislation, the number of riverboat casinos that there can be in the State is unlimited. Over time, many casinos were set up on barges, which hover over the water, as to allow for more space to host gamblers and casino games.

Although riverboat casinos were officially legalized in Missouri in 1992, the law was amended in 2000 as to allow continuous boarding and to omit the requirement of cruising. In this State, you’ll find that casino games such as Blackjack and Poker are permitted because they are games of skill and not just chance. Casino Games such as slot machines and other table games are not allowed.

Where can I find a Riverboat Casino near me?

riverboat casino

If you happen to be in living or vacationing in one of the States where riverboat gambling is legal, our list of riverboat casinos might come in handy. These are just a mere few that can be found in the States of Iowa, Mississippi, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. Check them out below:

Riverboat Casinos in Iowa

  • Lady Luck Casino Marquette
  • Catfish Bend Casino 
  • Rhythm City Casino Resort
  • Hollywood Casino 
  • Grand Victoria Casino and Resort 
  • Belterra Casino Resort

Riverboat casinos in Mississippi

  • Casino Rouge 
  • Casino Queen
  • Colorado Belle
  • Alton Belle Casino

Riverboat Casinos in Illinois

  • Riverboat casino Elgin
  • Argosy Casino Alton
  • Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino 
  • Grand Victoria Casino 
  • Harrah’s Metropolis

Riverboat Casinos in Missouri

  • Lumiere Place
  • River City Casino

Riverboat Casinos in Indiana

  • Belterra Casino Resort and Spa
  • Horseshoe Southern Indiana
  • Casino Aztar
  • Majestic Star Casino

Play Roulette

Free Roulette - Start Choosing Your Bets and Spinning the Wheel

Free Roulette - Start Choosing Your Bets and Spinning the Wheel

The thrill of watching the spinning red and black Roulette wheel has long served to grip many avid gamblers around the g...


Bonus Calculator

Play Blackjack

Free Video Poker: Joker Poker

Free Video Poker: Joker Poker

Video Poker is one of our favorite online games. And who could blame us for loving it so much? This wonderful game is on...