The noise of construction equipment and dozens of busy,orange-vest clad construction workers fills the cavernous concrete structure that's rising on the East St. Louis, Ill., riverfront to serve as the new, expanded home of the Casino Queen. But, one just has to look toward the soaring 22-foot ceilings, where large sections of detailed molding are already in place, to get the sense that much of the heavy work is done and the construction crew is heading into the home stretch to get the new facility completed in time for its early August grand opening.
The new facility is Phase 1 of a planned $150-million investment at the site, and represents over $90 million in new investment thus far by Casino Queen Inc. as part of its multi-phased expansion.
Construction of the new casino began in May 2006. The new, 207,500-square-foot casino — a two-level, tilt-up concrete building with a steel roof — will be a floating gaming facility, but not upon a barge like older river-based casinos. Clayco, which is building the facility in a joint venture with Legacy Building Group LLC, has added 340,000 gallons of water to the excavated basin that now lies beneath the actual gaming floor, successfully enabling it to officially float in its moat. The floating structure is held stationary at strategic points around the building.
"Getting to this critical point in the development of this one-of-a-kind facility required significant ingenuity and a willingness to try a construction approach that's never before been utilized for a casino development," notes Jim Koman, president of Casino Queen Inc.
Specially, once the site was excavated, special foam sheets, 4 feet by 20 feet in size and about 3 inches thick, were stacked 6 feet high for the entire footprint of the gaming area, or about 38,000 square feet in area. Concrete a foot thick was poured; then an under-floor duct system was installed, followed by more poured concrete to create the gaming floor.
Ryan Taylor, senior project manager for Clayco, described the initial phase of the project as similar to building a large swimming pool — if one can imagine a pool almost the size of a football field. While the unique building platform that will serve as the gaming floor now sits in the excavated area, it's the water beneath that creates the final effect of a floating casino.
At 38,000 square feet, the new gaming floor is almost 10,000 square feet larger than the current gambling area in the existing riverboat casino that is moored on the eastern banks of the Mississippi, directly across from the Gateway Arch. It will feature over 1,100 slot machines and 34 table games, all on one level. Surrounding the gaming floor will be a variety of restaurants and entertainment venues.
The completed entertainment complex, which incorporates Beaux-Arts style architecture and design elements, will replace the Casino Queen riverboat that originally opened in 1993. Future phases of the expansion will include additional entertainment venues and amenities to increase the overall gaming experience for patrons.
According to project officials, the Casino Queen site encompasses 61 acres. The new structure is being built with 1,250 tons of steel and 13,000 cubic yards of concrete. The length of the longest support beam — a critical component since there are no support pillars on the entire gaming floor — is 160 lineal feet.
The new casino will have approximately 22,000 square yards of carpeting and about 3,200 light fixtures (this total does not include thousands of lineal feet of LED lighting which will replace traditional neon accent lighting). And there will be 2,500 parking spaces.