Companies' plans for Cape casino remain uncertain

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The companies that want to put a casino in Cape Girardeau all include people with lengthy experience in the gambling and tourism industries, but those companies are not ready to reveal much about their plans.

And area residents are going to have to wait a little longer than expected to learn those details. A city council work session originally planned for Thursday as the first look at the plans has been postponed without a new date being set.

A few things are certain. Any casino proposal must be placed on land within 1,000 feet of the Mississippi River. Making a development happen will mean major investments in infrastructure -- streets, water and sewer and power utilities -- at the casino site. But beyond that, the uncertainties start multiplying.

For example, three entities have told the city they want to compete for the endorsement that the council is expected to issue. Those endorsements have, in the past, carried great weight with the gaming commission, especially in smaller markets where only one casino can reasonably be expected to make a profit.

But only two companies -- St. Louis Capital Partners LLC and Unbridled Entertainment Inc. -- have announced publicly their interest in Cape Girardeau. Neither company currently operates a casino. A third has been identified only as a St. Louis-based casino company with operations in six states, a description that fits Isle of Capri, owner of Missouri casinos in Caruthersville, Boonville and Kansas City.

More players, not yet identified as interested in Cape Girardeau, could be part of the mix.

Finding the right property could be one of the major hurdles for some companies intending to compete here.

A local partnership, DREAMBig LLC, has land available along North Main Street. One of the main partners, Ole Hickory Pits owner David Knight, said he and Jim Riley, owner of Red Letter Communications, have settled on a development partner but won't reveal the name until the council meets to hear proposals.

"There is a lot of confidential information I am not able to discuss today," Knight said.

Knight said he believes the property he and Riley control -- the one-time site of a shoe factory near the intersection of North Main and Mill streets -- is the best possible location for a casino. It has 100 years of history as a commercial area and could use the makeover that a big new development would give it, he said.

"The casino provides the necessary catalyst to revitalize this area that has remained dormant since the shoe factory closed over 20 years ago," Knight said.

But the property targeted by Knight and Riley isn't the only eligible spot. Property within 1,000 feet of the river would include areas near the Cape Girardeau Country Club, along South Main and South Spanish streets north of Highway 74 and property along Giboney Avenue south of the highway.

For many sites, the proximity of the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe railroad could present either a noise or safety obstacle. Road access to the sites is another issue that would have to be solved to allow perhaps 1,000 cars a day to visit a casino.

The city has not made a map that shows the exact boundaries of that 1,000-foot limit, city manager Scott Meyer said. Instead, he said he expects casino developers to select and secure the legally eligible property they need.

Both companies that have identified Cape Girardeau as their city of interest have a respectable casino pedigree.

St. Louis Capital Partners LLC is registered in Illinois and the three principals -- Joe Uram, Tom Long and Jeff Roberts -- were officers in Argosy Gaming, a company that opened one of the first casinos in Missouri in June 1994. They sold that business to Penn National Gaming in 2005 for $2.2 billion.

Uram would not comment Friday on specific plans for Cape Girardeau. "We don't want to do or say anything may put us at a competitive disadvantage," Uram said.

Uram and Roberts are partners in J&S Real Estate, which owns a vacant, three-story riverboat casino structure on a barge moored in Alton, Ill., on property leased from the city. This empty casino is near Argosy's Alton Casino, where Uram and Roberts were previously executives.

Uram is also listed as president of 37-2 Capital Corp of Belleville, Ill., according to the Illinois Secretary of State records. 37-2 Corp. attempted to bring a riverboat casino to Danville, Ill., in 2007.

Unbridled Entertainment is a company registered in Florence, Ky. Its corporate registration lapsed last year, but that was an oversight due to a registered agent who moved his office and an extremely busy staff, owner Teri Reinersman said. The registration will be renewed Tuesday, she said.

Reinersman at one time was a sales director for Belterra Casino in Indiana, and said her company recently signed letters of intent to purchase two properties in southern states.

The company has revealed that it wants to build a 300-room hotel in Cape Girardeau but little else. "I truly have my eyes set on Cape," Reinersman said. "We have a dynamic vision for the community, and I have a very strong relationship with the key developers in the United States."

The company that is the center of much speculation, Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., announced Friday that it purchased its 15th casino in Vicksburg, Miss. The company operates in mostly rural locations in six states including Missouri, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Iowa and Colorado.

Jill Haynes, senior director of corporate communication at Isle of Capri, would not comment on her company's interest in a development in Cape Girardeau.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Casino contenders

Company: DREAMBig LLC

Who: Cape Girardeau businessmen David Knight and Jim Riley

Corporate registration: Missouri

Other interests: Knight owns Ole Hickory Pits, maker of barbecue ovens; Riley owns Red Letter Communications, a full-service advertising and public relations firm.

Proposed location: North Main Street area around Mill Street.

Casino developer: To be announced Thursday.

Company: Unbridled Entertainment

Who: Teri Reinersman, owner

Corporate registration: Kentucky

Other interests: Working to purchase southern casino properties.

Proposed location: Not announced.

Company: St. Louis Capital Partners LLC

Who: Tom Long, Joe Arum and Jeff Roberts, former executives of Argosy Gaming

Corporate registration: Illinois

Other interests: Some principals have sought casino license in other states.

Proposed location: Not announced.

Company: Isle of Capri

Who: St. Louis-based casino operating company

Corporate registration: Missouri

Other interests: 15 casinos in six states.

Proposed location: Not announced, no acknowledged interest in Cape Girardeau.

-- Rudi Keller

Pertinent addresses:

1 E. Cape Rock Drive, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

700 N. Main St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

900 S. Fountain St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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