Goldstein secured first gaming license

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2003

Natchez officials crushed his hope of opening the first Mississippi riverboat casino in Natchez, but Bernard Goldstein, chairman of the board and CEO of Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., many years later has fulfilled the dream.

Goldstein, an Iowa businessman, secured the first

license issued after the June 1990 passage by the state Legislature of the Mississippi Gaming Control Act. Natchez voters, after a highly charged debate, gave the go-ahead to a dockside casino in the city in November 1990.

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&uot;It was a wonderful day for us when that referendum passed,&uot; Goldstein said Friday as he recalled events of that year. &uot;We were very disappointed when we weren’t able to exercise our license and put Mississippi casino number one in Natchez.&uot;

Thinking a deal had been struck with the city, Goldstein found that city officials instead had chosen Andrew Tompkins of Lady Luck Casino in Las Vegas.

&uot;Instead of Natchez it was Biloxi that got the first casino,&uot; Goldstein said. &uot;But we finally did get to Natchez, where I’ve always wanted to have a riverboat.&uot;

Goldstein’s August 1992 opening of the Isle of Capri in Biloxi preceded by six months the February 1993 opening of Lady Luck at Natchez Under-the-Hill.

Seven years later, on March 2, 2000, Goldstein announced his purchase of Lady Luck’s property in Natchez and in Las Vegas.

&uot;We bought the Lady Luck in Las Vegas as part of the package. That was how Andy Tompkins wanted it,&uot; Goldstein said. &uot;But we really didn’t want the Las Vegas property and we have sold it. In about a month it will belong to someone else.&uot;

The Natchez property, however, is one he has been pleased to own. &uot;It works well for its size, not a large money maker but successful,&uot; he said.

&uot;Our company is able to run a casino successfully in a small community. We sell fun. And we try to sell a lot of fun at reasonable cost.&uot;

Expansions planned in the near future at several Isle of Capri properties were to include the Natchez location until talk surfaced about bringing a second casino to Natchez, Goldstein said.

&uot;We’re discouraged from working on any plans because the Natchez market provides barely enough for one casino,&uot; he said. &uot;Two can’t make it. Why should we spend money on improvements if we have to shut down soon after we do it?&uot;

Goldstein said city officials know his position on their solicitations for another casino. &uot;This has been conveyed to our city fathers.&uot;

Isle of Capri company-wide has boomed in the decade it has been in business and has grown to be the seventh largest publicly held gaming company in the United States.

Mississippi casinos, in addition to Natchez and Biloxi, include one at Lula and one at Vicksburg. In Louisiana, Isle of Capri operates at Lake Charles and at Bossier City.

In Iowa, the Isle of Capri is at Marquette and Bettendorf, Goldstein’s home base. Other casinos are at Black Hawk, Colo., and Booneville and Kansas City, Mo.

Goldstein, who holds both a bachelor’s and a law degree from the University of Illinois, also is chairman of the board of the Alter Companies, which include barge line and scrap iron businesses.

In Iowa, he also set the pace for riverboat gambling, taking his Diamond Lady out from Bettendorf on April 1, 1991, making it the first boat to take advantage of the new U.S. and Iowa laws and the first to open a new era of gambling on the Mississippi River.

He visits Natchez and the other Mississippi casinos two times a year, when he and his wife travel to Florida and back from Iowa.

&uot;I’ve always had a soft spot for Natchez,&uot; Goldstein said. &uot;I hope the city gets things together to bring in some industry and some new jobs.&uot;