Signs of improvement: Dubuque gaming market sees revenues return to pre-pandemic levels

Overall gaming revenue at Dubuque casinos exceeded pre-pandemic figures in the month of March, contributing to a sense of optimism that good things lie ahead in the industry.

Diamond Jo Casino and Q Casino and Hotel collectively generated $12.21 million in gaming revenue last month, according to figures released by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

That more than doubled the $5.19 million from March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted both casinos to shut down midway through the month. Revenue figures from last month also edged out gaming revenue from March 2019, when the casinos combined for $11.95 million.

“When you look at the combined numbers between Diamond Jo and Q Casino, they are very healthy and (the industry) is coming back,” said Jesus Aviles, CEO of Q Casino and Hotel. “People have more discretionary money, and many are just tired of staying home.”

Aviles’ comments came during the monthly meeting of the Dubuque Racing Association’s Board of Directors. The DRA is the nonprofit license holder for both Dubuque casinos.

Diamond Jo continues to hold the majority of the local market share, bringing in more than 56% of the gaming revenue. However, the gap has closed in the past two years.

Q’s gaming revenue increased from just less than $5 million in March 2019 to more than $5.3 million last month. Gaming revenue at Diamond Jo decreased from $6.95 million in March 2019 to $6.89 million last month.

Another positive sign for casinos has been growing interest in sports betting.

The total sports betting handle — or amount wagered — at Diamond Jo was nearly $29 million in March, while Q saw a much smaller sports wagering handle of $1.3 million. Each casino’s handle outpaced their results from the previous month, mirroring a statewide trend.

According to Iowa Economic Development Authority, more than $161 million was wagered on sports statewide in March, eclipsing the previous, one-month record of about $150 million in January.

While gambling revenues have rebounded, attendance remains well behind the pace from a couple of years ago.

Total admission to the two casinos was just below 112,000 in March 2021. That is down from about 152,000 in March 2019.

Q Casino Vice President and General Manager Brian Rakestraw noted that this has a ripple effect on other parts of the casino’s business.

“With attendance still struggling, we are continuing to see lower revenue in our hotel and food-and-beverage businesses,” he said.

Casino officials on Tuesday also discussed the upcoming opening of Dubuque’s Veterans Memorial Plaza, which is located on Chaplain Schmitt Island. The construction project at Veterans Memorial Plaza includes the relocation of the Tri-State Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the installation of the “Skyward” sculpture.

Officials said a ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place on May 30. Fencing currently is erected around the plaza as crews put finishing touches on the project.

“It will be quite an event,” said DRA Board Chairman Kevin Lynch. “This has been a long time coming.”