Casino marks 25 years in Marquette

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Casino Queen Marquette will celebrate 25 years in Marquette on Dec. 26. Over 12 million people have passed through the doors since 1994, enjoying not just gambling, but live entertainment and an extensive buffet. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

Over 12 million people have visited attraction since 1994

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The Miss Marquette Casino opened in the city of Marquette on Dec. 26, 1994, offering what the North Iowa Times detailed then as “over 30,000 square feet of excitement” in the form of three dice tables, three roulette wheels, 20 blackjack tables, a poker room and 620 nickel, quarter and dollar slot machines.

“The clang, clang, clang of the slot machines was all you could hear,” recalled Amy White, marketing manager at Casino Queen Marquette, as the establishment’s been known as since 2017. “People stood in line to get in. It was the place to be.”

Over 12 million people have passed through the doors since that frigidly cold day 25 years ago, enjoying not just gambling, but live entertainment and an extensive buffet. Countless others stop outside, posing for photos with the area’s most iconic pachyderm: Pinky the Elephant.

“It’s certainly brought a lot of people to the community,” said White, who’s one of 19 team members that’s been with the casino since day one. Fifty-two of the 137 current employees have been there for 15 years or more.

“I came thinking I’d stick it out a couple years—see what it’s like,” she said. “Then it turned into 10, 15, 20 years. It’s a good company to work for, and I like who I work with.”

The casino’s admittedly undergone some changes over that time. In 2005, state-mandated cruising rules were relaxed, and the Miss Marquette ceased leaving the shoreline for excursions. Pinky, who first arrived in Marquette 55 years ago this month, initially resided on the roof, but was later moved alongside the road. 

2000 prompted a name change from Miss Marquette to the Isle of Capri and, in 2010, still owned by Isle of Capri, it was re-branded as Lady Luck. For the past two years, the location has been Casino Queen Marquette.

There’s also considerably less clanging. Slot machines are more electronic now, noted White.

“You don’t carry cups of coins up to the counter,” she said. “Now, it prints out a ticket to take up,” when you win money.

In 2020, the casino hopes to offer the popular sports betting.

“We have the license, and now we’re finalizing who the vendor is going to be,” White said. “That will bring a different variety of gamblers in—a younger demographic.”

There’s a lot that hasn’t changed over 25 years, though, White shared. As the number of seasoned employees represents, the casino values dedicated and friendly staff. It’s also committed to providing great food. The buffet still offers classics like prime rib and bread pudding.

“They’ve been using those same recipes forever,” White said.

Throughout December, visitors have enjoyed 25 percent off meals on Thursdays, in celebration of Casino Queen Marquette’s 25-year anniversary.

Although not as frequently, the casino continues to offer live shows. One is usually held quarterly, and the latest will be this Saturday, Dec. 28. The White Sidewalls Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue will perform in Sevens from 7 to 10 p.m., as part of the anniversary celebration. The show will be nostalgic for many, said White.

“They came quite a bit when we had weekly entertainment,” she quipped.

The most important thing that hasn’t changed, White said, is the casino’s role in the community. Staff help with highway clean ups, collect food at the Holiday Train stop in Marquette and volunteer with community projects, such as playground installation at McGregor’s Turner Park. The casino also donates to local causes and, through the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation (UMGC), has given over $6 million in grants to area nonprofit organizations.

“That’s a lot of money that’s gone out,” said White, and even more will be distributed in the coming years.

Marquette, McGregor and Prairie du Chien have benefitted from the casino’s economic impact. While many casino patrons come from nearby, most travel at least 60 miles to gamble, White said. 

“A lot of those people stay, shop and eat,” she explained. “They go to other places” in the communities.

“Marquette is fortunate that, 25 years ago, the casino decided to settle in our little town,” said mayor Steve Weipert. “When it arrived, it brought many more tourists to town and more economic development than we could have imagined.”

Mayors and councils have used casino revenues wisely, investing in the city’s infrastructure, Weipert shared.

The city has good water and sewer lines, added city clerk Bonnie Basemann, and now the council is considering additional investments in solar power along with sustainable senior housing. Marquette also appreciates the casino’s annual contribution toward Fourth of July fireworks, as well as UMGC grants to the police and fire departments.

“The casino has impacted every facet,” Basemann said. “It’s a partnership we appreciate and that we don’t take for granted.”

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