The first riverboat casino in the USA sunk in the Mississippi River

The first riverboat casino to open in the United States, and Biloxi now sits in the mud of Memphis as the Mississippi River recedes.

To see the fate of the Diamond Lady on Facebook – covered in mud when she emerged from where she sank a year ago – is a sad ending to her story.

“It made my heart break. I didn’t really know what happened to him, ”said Rich Westfall, who followed the Diamond Lady and her sister boat, the Emerald Lady, from Bettendorf, Iowa to Biloxi 30 years ago.

He was the company’s marketing director and staff member who opened a pair of boats as a casino on the island of Capri on August 1, 1992.

The Diamond Lady was reportedly stored at Lake McKellar, near the Mississippi River in Tennessee, in 2008, and sank in 2021 while freezing.

The river boat is now fully visible as the Mississippi River drops to a historic low. The photos show that although her decks are still somewhat intact and her name still appears on the hull, the double funnels no longer stand high and the ship has lost its glow.

Vanna White helped baptize the Diamond Lady

Westfall remembers when she actually was the Diamond Lady.

“It’s such a beautifully built river boat, tough and fast.”

Bernie Goldstein, who became known as the “father of the river gambling,” built boats in 1990 in Iowa as replicas of the 1880s paddleboats that sailed the Mississippi River.

“Vanna White was there on opening day,” Westfall said, and cut the ribbon on April 1, 1991, a year before finding a home on the Mississippi coast.

“They were identically built,” he said of the Diamond Lady and the Emerald Lady, simply adorned with a variety of furniture and colors, and fitted with luxurious Abenson rug, crystal glass and beautiful finishes.

At the top of both boats was the Texas deck which he said was an open place to rest.

The first roll of the dice. JPG
This photo, taken on August 1, 1992, shows Tommy Gollott gearing up for his first legal “dice roll” in Mississippi and Capri Biloxi Island. On the left you can barely see Bruce Nourse, who was an agent of the Games Commission, Ed Ernst, the president of the island, Bernie Goldstein, the president and CEO of the island, Tommy Gollott, the mayor of Pete Halet and the various directors of the island. Sun Herald

From Iowa to Mississippi

Iowa regulations limited riverboat casino space to just 30 percent, Westfall said.

Goldstein decided to move his boats where he could earn a living, and on July 5, 1992, the ladies left Iowa for Biloxi, where the welcome parade of boats was heard by the roar of thunder.

The interiors of the boats were filled with all the slot machines and table games permitted under Mississippi laws, he said:

Lucky 7 Pavilion, which was originally from Iowa with boats that connected them and provided space for a poker room and dining space, he said.

Capri Island and other casinos that quickly opened in the south of the Mississippi were met with such enthusiasm that they soon needed more space.

“We turned two riverboats into a two-tier barge,” said Westfall.

In 1994, an 18 million barge, with tall windows and tropical colors, replaced the 1800-style Diamond Lady river boat and the Lucky 7 Pavilion, the Sun Herald reported.

“The casino is a floating building that complements the offices and restaurant ashore,” the article said. It featured 716 slot machines – 76 more than The Diamond Lady – and table games.

The following year, the hotel opened, Westfall said.

Capri Island 1994
The Isle of Capri casino at Point Cadet in Biloxi in 1994 had one of the two original river boats and one barge. Herb Welch The Herald of the Sun file

Where is the Emerald Lady?

Westfall said he heard the Emerald Lady was in Ohio and turned into a ship for dinner.

Captain Don Sanders, who wrote a series of articles about his time on the Mississippi River for the North Kentucky Tribune, reported in 2016 that BB Riverboats had purchased the Emerald Lady and converted it into a cruise boat.

The website shows that the Belle of Cincinnati, as the Emerald Lady is now known, is still used for sightseeing cruises and summer lunch tours along the river in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky.

“She was built to last, and it was a beautiful boat,” Westfall said of the Diamond Lady, and her emerald twin.

Capri island
Bernie Goldsteins’ river ships Diamond Lady and Emerald Lady took a week to sail the Mississippi River from Iowa to Biloxi and were the first casinos to open in the state and the Southeast. The Diamond Lady emerged after sinking into a tributary of the Mississippi River. Herald of the sun Files of the Sunbringer 1992

Casinos on the island
Twin river boats with casinos were the entire island of Capri Casino 30 years ago. The hotel, spa, restaurants and infinity pool later appeared. River ships left Iowa and the Isle of Capri was the first casino to open in Mississippi on August 1, 1992. Sun Herald File

This story was originally published November 2, 2022 11:37 AM.

Mary Perez profile photo

Mary Perez has won awards for business and casino items for the Sun Herald. He also writes about Biloxi, the work and the new restaurants and developments that are appearing on the Coast. She is a fourth generation journalist.


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