Bally’s breaks ground at former Isle of Capri Casino

The Flamingo Hilton casino riverboat is placed into the Missouri river, 1996.

Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

Bally’s Kansas City broke ground on a $40 million land-based property expansion at the site of the former Isle of Capri Casino last week, kicking off a renovation that will feature new restaurants, amenities and retail at 1800 East Front St.

“We are so thankful to be a part of a vibrant community, we’re fortunate to have great neighbors in City Market and Berkley Riverfront redevelopment, and we’re proud to be partners with the City of Kansas City, and Port KC,” said Mike Donovan, regional vice president and general manager at the new Bally’s Kansas City.

Bally’s Kansas City, most recently Isle of Capri, was originally Flamingo Hilton when it was launched into the Missouri River in 1996. Prior to the groundbreaking, Bally’s honored its 16 25-year team members who have worked at the venue since its conception.

“Now over 25 years later, we are excited to take this next step as Bally’s Kansas City Casino,” Donovan said. “With our $40 million redevelopment project we look forward to completely transforming the riverfront here in Kansas City.”

Missouri has a long and storied history of riverboat gambling. The Missouri Gaming Commission was established in 1993 to regulate excursion gambling boats. The Commission’s role is to ensure that criminal elements do not infiltrate licensed gaming operations and that games are conducted fairly, according to their rules and with full disclosure.

In 1994 Missouri’s first two cruising riverboat casinos – President Casino in downtown St. Louis and Station Casino in St. Charles – opened on May 27 with video poker and table games. Argosy Casino Riverside, St. Jo Frontier Casino and Harrah’s North Kansas City open by September. Voters approve games of chance in November and guests are playing slot machines in December. By 1996, the Missouri Gaming Commission allowed riverboat casinos to remain dockside, and the Flamingo Hilton Kansas City opened.

There are now 13 casinos in Missouri, based along its two major waterways, the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The laws allow for artificial moats or bodies of water, which has created a loose interpretation of what constitutes a riverboat.

The Providence, R.I.-based company plans to update the iconic riverboat into a modern facility with expanded entertainment options and amenities.

“We want to fit in with the Berkeley Riverfront, we want to fit in with Kansas City, Missouri, we want to be a part of the shining examples of what the city is today, and bring it up to its rightful place,” said Paul Juliano, Bally’s Vice President of Operations.

Bally’s continues to grow its presence in online sports betting and fantasy sports in the US. In September 2016 the Missouri Fantasy Sports Consumer Protection Act went into effect, regulated by the Missouri Gaming Commission, and recently, a pair of bills to legalize sports betting in Missouri were introduced in the state senate. This industry employs approximately 8,824 people with an annual payroll of approximately $314.6 million dollars throughout the state.

With more than 6,000 employees, the company operations – pro forma for pending acquisitions – include 15,837 slot machines, 532 table games and 5,355 hotel rooms. Upon closing the Tropicana Las Vegas transaction, as well as completing the construction of a land-based casino near the Nittany Mall in State College, Pa., Bally’s will own and manage 16 casinos across 11 states.

The corporation’s local partners include the Downtown Council, Hispanic Chamber, Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce, Veterans Community Project, KC Pet Project, Urban Rangers and Port KC.

“We’re beginning our work to open a new 40,000-square-foot commercial center, and in the process completely transforming our 27-acre site,” Donovan said. “When we are finished, we will have four new restaurants, new gaming experiences and new retail spaces.”

Bally’s recently announced its two destination restaurant partners, Sugar Factory and Chickie & Pete’s Crabhouse and Sports Bar. Together, they have over 40 full-scale locations globally. Kansas City sports fans may recognize Chickie & Pete’s as a vendor from Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums.

“We believe these brands will be a key part of our transformation of the riverfront,” Donovan said. “Today represents turning the dreams of a world-class entertainment destination in Kansas City into a reality. It will also mean tremendous positives, not only for the state of Missouri, but in particular for the local Kansas City economy.”

Since 2017 Bally’s has contributed over $119 million in economic impact to the region and with the redevelopment project, and they look forward to being an even larger part of that moving forward, Donovan said.

“We’re going to continue to bring jobs, we’re going to continue to reinvest in our entertainment offerings, and we’re going to continue to drive gaming revenues that directly benefit education, state and local governments,” Donovan said.

For Juliano, the spirit of hospitality has made Kansas City the obvious place to expand.

“I’m truly excited to get to come to Kansas City, Missouri, it’s a trip that I love and I’m having a blast,” Juliano said. “And this really makes work fun so thank you, appreciate that.”

When Isle of Capri sold the property in July 2020 to Twin River Worldwide Holdings Inc., it was briefly rebranded to Casino KC. On November 9, 2020, Twin River Worldwide Holdings acquired the Bally’s name.

“We saw opportunity, we saw proximity to downtown, we saw population, and we said, ‘Wow, we really think we can improve this place,’” Juliano said.

With the support of Bally’s Board of Directors, shareholders and investors, they moved forward with a property improvement plan. Now, they’re set to begin phase one.

Bally’s recognizes that when a community thrives, so do its businesses, Donovan said. They’ve worked with over 20 local organizations, and since 2017, they’ve awarded over $100,000 to local charities. At the groundbreaking, they divided $10,000 in donations to Veterans Community Project, KC Pet Project, Urban Rangers and Nourish KC.

“Welcome to the ninth district – this is literally the most northern part of my district – but to have them here, and they’re going to bring us 600 jobs, they’re spending $40 million just to get here,” State Senator Barbara Washington said. “As a Black woman, I’m so excited to be able to support an organization that understands that Kansas City means equality and diversity, and it means [minority and women-owned business] contracts, and it means union contracts, and that’s something that I’m proud to support.”

While Kansas City misses the pink flamingo, Washington said she’s excited to see what Bally’s does with the building in making it something that gamblers and sports fans alike can enjoy.

“It’s a place that we can be proud of, and know that a multi-billion dollar company is making a $40 billion initial investment,” Washington said. “We love tourism, so when you come to Kansas City, and you come to our new – I think we’re up to $2 billion – airport, I’m sure Bally’s is going to put something there so that people know they can stay in some of the new hotels… they can come and enjoy Bally’s and spend their money.”

Councilman Eric Bunch said this transformation is part of a much bigger story about the future of the riverfront, of transportation, and of employment in Kansas City.

“This really fantastic project, it’s not just $40 million right here, obviously there’s more coming,” Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch said. “For so long, the city has turned its back on the river, which I think is criminal, considering the river was the thing that made Kansas City… because of the vision of our people who came before us.”

The casino is open during construction, and Bally’s has already started making changes to gaming and restaurants. The $40 million project is set to begin within weeks.

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