Indiana’s First Casino Former Aztar Riverboat For Sale

Posted on: Jan 16, 2023 04:21 am.

Last updated on: January 16, 2023 04:27.

Indiana’s first casino is now on the market for $16 million. Casino Aztar opened on December 8, 1995 and for the next 20 years became a floating facility on the shores of the Ohio River in downtown Evansville. Since 2019, it has operated in New Orleans as the Riverboat Louis Armstrong, a memorial to the city’s best-known native jazz trumpeter.

Former Casino Aztar
Formerly Casino Aztar, Indiana’s first casino, was last used as the riverboat Louis Armstrong for Mississippi River cruises. (Image: Facebook)

“The boat is beautiful and we’ve invested about $14 million in it,” said Warren Reuther Casino.org. He is President and CEO of Hospitality Enterprises New Orleans/BigEasy.com, which purchased the riverboat in 2017.

“We bought it for entertainment and conventions,” Reuther said, “the boat was right behind the convention center. But New Orleans has slowed down quite a bit with conventions, and we decided that 23 wasn’t going to be a good year for conventions in New Orleans.

Aztar 101

Casino Aztar became Indiana’s first casino under the November 1993 riverboat gambling legislation. Officially called the City of Evansville, it was opened by Aztar Corporation, a Phoenix-based hospitality organization formed in 1989 during a reorganization of Ramada Inn, Inc.

Casino Aztar
Casino Aztar as it appeared in 2002 on the Evansville, Indiana coast. (Image: Indianapolis Star)

More than 200 Jeffboat employees of Jeffersonville, Indiana spent more than a year building the 310-foot vessel. Its exterior was designed by RA Stern, Inc. as a replica of Robert E. Lee’s historic sidewheel racer. The interior by Morris & Brown Architects, Ltd. was pure Las Vegas glitz.

Casino Aztar
An undated interior photo of Casino Aztar. (Image: Evansville Courier and Press)

When Riverboat Casino opened, it packed 1,100 slot machines and more than 60 blackjack and poker tables into its 38,000 square foot gaming space. It offered space for 2,700 guests.

In January 2007, Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex Corp acquired the riverboat. Less than a year later, it sold it to Eldorado Resorts of Reno, Nevada, as part of a $245 million deal that also included the casino’s 350-room hotel, a parking lot, and a shopping pavilion to avoid bankruptcy . In 2013, Casino Aztar became Tropicana Evansville, a name change in line with the new parent company.

losing streak

After initially attracting about 2 million guests a year, the casino riverboat saw visitor numbers dwindle as more casinos opened in Indiana and surrounding states. According to reports from the Indiana Gaming Commission, approximately 1.15 million guests boarded the Tropicana Evansville in fiscal 2017.

In 2015, then Governor. Mike Pence allowed land-based casino laws to become law without his signature. A year later, the Indiana Gaming Commission unanimously approved Tropicana Evansville’s proposal to go ashore. The company built a $50 million casino in downtown Evansville with 45,000 feet of gaming space and two hotels.

After 22 years of continuous operation, the floating casino closed on October 16, 2017. It was sold to Texas Slots & Gaming Boat Purchase, who in turn resold it to the Reuther company. (Through another company, New Orleans Paddlewheels, Reuther once owned half of the Queen of New Orleans riverboat casino. The Hilton Gaming Division owned the other half.)

“The casino boats we looked at earlier were awful,” Reuther said. “They weren’t built as boats. They were built as a floating casino. But that was different.”

The big difficult

Modifications were required before the riverboat could be towed to its new home in Louisiana. More than 900 slot machines and its 98-foot chimneys — too tall to climb some bridges along the way — have been removed.

In Louisiana, Reuther’s company completed $10 million worth of renovations. The interior has been completely remodeled with brand new layouts that increased the boat’s occupancy to 3,000.

On December 14, 2019, the former Casino Aztar was renamed Riverboat Louis Armstrong. It functioned as a nightclub and venue for jazz concerts, conventions, parties and weddings. It is adjacent to the Hilton Riverside/Riverwalk and is licensed for 3,000 passengers.

“When the congress business picks up again, we will open it again,” said Reuther. “But for now it’s available to anyone who wants a nice, fun boat that can be docked.”

Visit OceanMarine’s brokerage website for more information.

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