Throwback Thursday: 2nd Diamond Jo boat marks grand opening 25 years ago

Fireworks sparkle above the new Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque’s Ice Harbor in 1995. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering, Telegraph Herald file

A new era in riverboat gambling launched 25 years ago in Dubuque, with the arrival of the larger of two Diamond Jo Casino boats.

The boat was the third to sail the Mississippi River at Dubuque. Riverboat gambling had debuted in Dubuque in April 1991, with the arrival of the Casino Belle. That boat ceased operations two years later.

The original Diamond Jo began operations in May 1994. A larger successor with the same moniker replaced it in October 1995.

Iowa’s gambling restrictions were eased in 2005, allowing Diamond Jo’s operators to cease riverboat cruises and permanently moor the boat in Dubuque.

The Diamond Jo moved from the water to an $84 million land-based facility in 2008.

Here is how the Telegraph Herald reported on the debut of the new boat in its Oct. 6, 1995, edition.

NEW CASINO BOAT SPARKLES AT PARTY

Spirits were sailing high Thursday night as the Dubuque Diamond Jo Casino celebrated its grand opening.

The nearly 1,400-passenger boat actually opened for business two days earlier to work out any kinks, but Thursday was the official unveiling.

More than 1,000 attended a party held before the public grand opening.

A white tent covering the patio area of the Portside building proved a smart idea as rain fell for much of the evening.

Miss Iowa, Jennifer Curry, of Muscatine, christened the boat with a bottle of champagne tied to a cord. The Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors were on hand for a ribbon cutting.

Rich Whitty, chairman of the chamber of commerce board of directors, thanked owners and operators “for the major investment that you have made in the tri-state area.”

Group tour operators are always looking for new attractions, and “this investment is going to represent that new attraction,” he said. “We hope that your vision pays off in the future.”

Joe Zwack, an investor in the Greater Dubuque Riverboat Entertainment Co., which owns the boat, quoted Benjamin Franklin: “Vessels large can venture far, but little boats should stay close to the shore.”

The first Diamond Jo, a smaller vessel with capacity of about 700, still boarded more passengers and paid more taxes than its predecessor, the Dubuque Casino Belle, in its first year, Zwack said.

The first Diamond Jo will be moored here until it is sold, but it will not be in operation.

“This is not just a new boat. It’s a major boost for Dubuque and Dubuque area tourism,” said Larry Cremer, president of the Dubuque Racing Association.

Dubuque Mayor Terry Duggan said the boat is the most beautiful he’s been on.

The combination of the new Diamond Jo and slot machines at Dubuque Greyhound Park will bring visitors to the city, he said.

“It’ll fill the hotels again,” Duggan said. “It’ll fill up the restaurants, along with bringing a lot of additional revenue into the city.”