Saying Goodbye to “The Father of Riverboat Gaming,” Bernie Goldstein

It was early morning 18 years ago when a certain lady set sail in Bettendorf, Iowa, on what would become a particularly instrumental day in gaming’s history. Her maiden voyage marked one of the first steps in a new wave of casino gaming in the Midwestern United States.

That lady was the M/V Diamond Lady, a riverboat casino, and she sailed along the Mississippi on April 1, 1991, thanks to efforts spearheaded by Bernard Goldstein, known to most as Bernie. Years later, a little farther south down the river, Goldstein would build the empire known as the Isle of Capri Casinos, today one of the largest regional gaming operators in the U.S.

Goldstein was known as an innovative businessman, but he didn’t start out in the casino industry. In fact, he had a 40-year career in scrap metal recycling, river freight transportation and affiliated businesses before flirting with retirement in Florida, but ultimately he embarked on a second career in riverboat casinos. It is for his late-in-life achievements that we remember him today.

Goldstein was a pivotal figure in the gaming industry in the ‘80s and ’90s, lobbying for the original legislation that legalized riverboat gaming in Iowa. He founded Casino America and opened the first riverboat casino in the South in Biloxi, Miss., in 1992. He served as CEO and chairman of the board for Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. and owned and operated several casinos around the country. Though he retired as CEO in 2008, he served as chairman until his death on July 5, 2009.

Goldstein received many honors in his two short decades in gaming, reinforcing the scope of his contributions to the industry. He twice received the Simon Wiesenthal Distinguished Community Award. In 1993, he was selected Outstanding Business Leader by the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, Fla. In 1995, the Passenger Vessel Association presented him the Compass Award, and in 1999, he was inducted into the National Rivers Hall of Fame. In 2007, the Goldstein Family Foundation honored him by establishing a scholarship fund at the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University. In 2008, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and was named to the American Gaming Association (AGA) Hall of Fame. All this, and he still managed to pen a book, Navigating the Century, published by the History Factory in 1998.

Goldstein no doubt made substantial contributions to the casino industry, and he will be missed by many. AGA President and CEO Frank Fahrenkopf shared these thoughts in reflection on Goldstein: “Bernie was undoubtedly one of the most significant figures in the history of our industry, paving the way for the growth of gaming beyond Las Vegas and Atlantic City and establishing it as a major entertainment force in America’s Heartland. But it was the way he ran his company that truly will be remembered. Bernie was a family man. He considered Isle of Capri to be one big family, and he treated his colleagues and employees as such. His commitment to building and maintaining strong relationships and his uncompromised integrity and warmth set him apart. I am so grateful we had the opportunity to induct Bernie into the Gaming Hall of Fame last year. There never was a more worthy member of that esteemed group. He will be sorely, sorely missed.”

Goldstein is survived by his wife, Renee; children Jeffrey Goldstein (Regina), Robert Goldstein (Susan), Kathy Goldstein and Richard Goldstein (Isabel); and nine grandchildren. He will be remembered by his lifelong friends and thousands of employees.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, or the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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