Kehl Management History
Since receiving the first riverboat gaming license in 1990, the Kehl family has been at the forefront of gaming in Iowa.
The Kehl family has been involved in gaming since its inception in the state of Iowa. On March 8, 1990, the Dubuque Casino Belle, Inc. a corporation owned and operated by Robert & Ruth Kehl was granted the first riverboat gaming operator’s license in Iowa. The license was issued by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, on April 1, of 1990. The Dubuque Casino Belle became the first American-flagged vessel to offer gambling cruises in the United States.
The Kehl’s received their second license in 1991 for the Mississippi Belle II, Inc. The Mississippi Belle II started riverboat gaming operation on June 1, 1991 in Clinton, IA.
The Kehl’s had interest in and operated a total of four riverboat casinos in the Midwest; Dubuque Casino Belle, the Mississippi Belle II, Catfish Bend Casino, Fort Madison/Burlington, Iowa and Saint Joe Frontier Casino, St. Joe, Missouri.
Kehl Management Today
Today, the Kehl’s have majority ownership in Elite Casino Resorts LLC, which owns and operates Riverside Casino and Golf Resort in Washington County which opened in 2006, Grand Falls Casino Resort in Lyon County, Iowa, which opened in 2011, and Rhythm City Casino Resort, which reopened in 2016. Riverside Casino and Golf Resort received one of only four new Iowa gaming licenses awarded by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission out of ten applications in 2005. Grand Falls Casino Resort was the only license awarded by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission of four applications in 2010. In 2014, the Kehl’s became owners of the existing Rhythm City Casino in Davenport and opened a land based casino resort to replace the existing riverboat in June 2016.
For all these properties, Kehl Management focuses on providing the highest possible level of guest satisfaction, in high quality facilities with multiple amenities, utilizing a conservative management style all aimed at increasing revenues which insure maximum returns for the not for profit license holders, the county and cities in which they reside, and profits for the local investors.
Through related companies the Kehl’s built and remodeled fifteen riverboat casinos that are spread from Argentina to Washington State.
“Kehl and his wife, Ruth, founded a popular river cruise and gambling cruise/dinner operation. Their business was a primary reason for the development of Dubuque as a tourist center of the Midwest.”Dubuque Telegraph Herald
Robert and Ruth Kehl
Robert and Ruth Kehl have long been philanthropic and business leaders whose legacy is still apparent today.
Bob and Ruth Kehl got into business buying a cafe in downtown Dubuque, Iowa. By the 1970’s their business had expanded to catering and by 1973 they purchased a 150 passenger sternwheeler, “River Rogue” for dinner cruises. In 1977, they commissioned a 377 passenger boat, the “Spirit of Dubuque.” In 1982, The Mississippi Belle, a 600 passenger boat was launched and in 1984 the Mississippi Belle II, a 800 passenger boat. In 1988, the business expanded to West Virginia with the West Virginia Belle, a 1000 passenger boat.
Hard work creates success, and in 1986, Robert and Ruth received the National Small Business of the Year Award from President Reagan, beating Microsoft and others for the honor that year.
On March 8, 1990, Robert and Ruth’s Dubuque Casino Belle was granted the first riverboat gaming operator’s license in Iowa, becoming the first American-flagged gambling vessel. The Kehls received their second license in 1991 for the Mississippi Belle II in Clinton, Iowa. In all, the Kehls operated four riverboat casinos in the midwest: Dubuque Casino Bell, the Mississippi Belle II, Catfish Bend Casino, and St. Joe Frontier Casino.
When land-based casinos were licensed in 2004, the Kehls led the Iowa gaming industry forward, opening Riverside Casino and Golf Resort in 2006 and Grand Falls Casino and Golf Resort in 2011.
The fruits of Bob and Ruth’s labors have always been generously shared with others. As philanthropists, they have helped open the Kehl Diabetes Center of UnityPoint Health-Finley, as well as the Robert and Ruth Kehl Center at Clarke University.
Robert Kehl passed away in 2013, but his impact on Dubuque, the state of Iowa, and the modern gaming & tourism industry will be remembered for generations to come.
Dubuque Casino Belle
The Dubuque Casino Belle was the first Riverboat licensed in the State of Iowa and in the United States. Operation began on April 1, 1991 in Dubuque, Iowa. The Dubuque Casino Belle held 2,000 passengers. The company ceased operations in March 2003 with the $200 loss limit and $5 max hand wager hindering business when Illinois across the Mississippi River expanded gaming with unlimited wagering. All the employees stayed with the company until its closure, a true testament to the Kehl Management team.
Mississippi Belle II
The Mississippi Belle II operated the riverboat in Clinton, IA. In 1991, the Mississippi Belle II opened and in 1994 launched a larger 1,000 passenger vessel to handle the demand for business. In 2002, Kehl Management sold half the company to their employees, through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). The company was sold in 2006.
Catfish Bend Casino
Catfish Bend operated the casino in Burlington and Fort Madison, Iowa. It was the first partnership for Kehl Development which owned 51% of the casino with 49% owned by local Iowa investors. This model helped with the success Catfish Bend saw over the years. In 2006, Catfish Bend received an offer from an out-of-state company to purchase and instead of Kehl Development accepting the offer they allowed the local investors to match the offer to keep 100% of the profits local.
Riverside Casino and Golf Resort
Riverside Casino and Golf Resort set the bar for casinos when it opened in 2006 as the first true land-based casino in Iowa. The resort features a 56,000 sq. foot gaming floor, 1200 seat Event Center, four restaurant options, 200 hotel rooms, spa, 18-hole Rees Jones golf course and multiple shopping options. The $140 Million resort has over 750 employees and is the largest employer in Washington County and one of the top twenty employers in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids Corridor.
Grand Falls Casino Resort
Grand Falls Casino Resort received its gaming license in May of 2010. The resort features 900 slot machines, 24 table games, 8 poker tables, 3 restaurants, 100-room hotel, 1200 seat event center, show lounge, spa, indoor and outdoor pool, gift shop, boutique, and a 18-hole Rees Jones Golf Course. The resort is owned through an Iowa interstate public offering with preference given to those who live in Lyon County.
Rhythm City Casino
On February 7, 2014, Rhythm City opened to the public under new ownership. The Kehl family acquired the riverboat casino from Isle of Capri. The casino was transformed from a riverboat casino to a brand-new $140 million land-based casino with a hotel, retail shops, a spa, meeting space and live entertainment venues.