COUNCIL BLUFFS — Riverboat officials are choosing not to gamble on whether customers know their casino doors are open during this summer's Missouri River flooding.
Over the weekend, Ameristar Casino even painted “We're Open” in 11-foot-tall, bright yellow letters on top of its five-story parking garage. The simple message on the ramp leading to the roof stretches 125 feet.
“One of the pilots flying over (the flood area) suggested that would be a good way to advertise, and we agreed,” said Christie Scott, the Ameristar public relations director. “When you're on the river, people are going to wonder how you are doing. So we want to make sure everyone — including people flying into the Omaha area — knows we're open.”
Ameristar and Harrah's have increased advertising in newspapers and on radio and television to let the public know that their doors are wide open. Ameristar also recently rented a billboard near 72nd Street and Interstate 80 in Omaha that proclaims “We're Open.”
Each casino has lost more than 600 parking spaces to floodwaters, including the first floors of their parking garages and their north parking lots. But Ameristar still has more than 2,200 parking spaces available and Harrah's about 3,000.
Both properties have had to lower the connecting ramps from their hotels to the riverboat casinos.
For the first time since they opened in 1996, the enclosed ramps were dropped from second-floor connections with the riverboats to first-floor connections because the boats were lifted about 8 feet by the river.
“We should be good from now on,” said Missy Hardersen, public relations director for Harrah's. “The river would have to rise a whole lot more for us to have to make another change.”
Scott said Ameristar has been “getting lots and lots of phone calls asking if we're open. With this being such an important tourist attraction for Council Bluffs, we want to get the word out that we are.”
Hardersen said Harrah's welcome sign on Interstate 29 assures customers it's open. She also has been making more media appearances to talk about weekly concerts at the Stir Concert Cove.
“The cove is completely dry, and all of our concerts have gone as planned,” Hardersen said. “The only thing we want to remind concertgoers is they can park at the Mid-America Center and ride a free shuttle to the cove.”
The two casinos are within a mile of each other, just west of Interstate 29 at the Ninth Avenue exit and just across the river from downtown Omaha. Each has a hotel that connects to a floating riverboat casino. (When first opened, the casinos made a daily river cruise.) Each employs about 900 people.
Further inland — and not a riverboat — is the Horseshoe Casino, also home to the Bluffs Run greyhound dog track.
Hardersen said Harrah's hasn't noticed any drop in business. Ameristar's Scott said foot traffic to the roof of that casino's parking garage has even increased because of the “spectacular view” of the Missouri River flooding.
Ameristar and Harrah's officials said they stay in daily contact with Army Corps of Engineers officials and have emergency plans in the event of a catastrophe, though they declined to elaborate.
“We aren't taking anything for granted,” Scott said. “It's going to be a long summer.”
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