By Stephen Lindsley
It may not be in Missouri, but it’s about as close as you can get. The Casino Queen Hotel and Casino are directly across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis, just south of the historic Eads Bridge. A short walk, drive or Metro ride across the bridge brings you to the Queen within minutes, though this is by no means the only way to get there. It is easily accessible from highways 55, 64 and 70. Hourly shuttles operate from local hotels at no charge and ample parking is available on the sprawling 20-acre parking lot.
Since it opened in 1993 more than 25 million people have visited the Casino Queen, and plans for construction of a new, $150 million, 236,000-square-foot gaming facility to open in 2007 should quickly add to those numbers. It will be the only “boat-in-moat” casino structure in Illinois, featuring four restaurants and an additional 10,000 square feet of gaming floor.
That is the future, but for now at least, visitors to the Casino Queen continue to gamble on the steamboat-themed structure that started it all. For nearly 10 years the Queen actually set out on regularly scheduled cruises of the river, giving gamers a taste of what it might have been like on the mighty Mississippi in the heyday of the paddlewheel casino boat. Though the Queen is now permanently moored it has lost none of its charm, continuing to attract those who prefer a more intimate gaming experience.
For meeting and event planners, it is the range of entertainment possibilities that is the main draw of the Casino Queen. Weekend and mid-week meeting packages are available, and Cardinals game night packages are also popular, says Laurie Jablonski, director of hotel operations.
Although the possibility of “hitting it big” is the attraction of the casino, the hotel is where the action is for meetings and events. Constructed just six years ago, the facility is immaculately maintained and still feels like new. An Arts & Crafts design theme has been applied throughout, with a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired carpet design in the lobby and hallways as well as fixtures and furnishings that complete the aesthetic.
The hotel boasts 150 rooms and seven suites. There are two Blackjack, Royal King and Royal Queen suites, all with stunning views of the St. Louis riverfront. A Penthouse suite is also available, representing the pinnacle of the hotel’s luxurious accommodations. Those with a penchant for bubbles should also consider one of 10 spa rooms where a multi-jet whirlpool spas are prominently featured.
Other hotel amenities include a heated indoor swimming pool, a fitness room with newly updated equipment, a complimentary and extensive continental breakfast, high-speed Internet available in every room and Neutrogena bath products – a vast improvement from the usual generic soap and shampoo combo.
Grab a Bite or Dance at Night
The hotel/casino complex offers four different dining options, plus a nightclub with a full stage. A short walk down the hall from the hotel lobby leads past the gift shop to the Guest Pavilion. It is here that gamblers enter the concourse that leads under Front Street and train tracks to the casino boat itself. Located in the Guest Pavilion are the Courtyard Buffet, Royal Table, Gazebo Café and Club Sevens nightclub. The buffet is large and diverse, with cheerful servers to attend to your beverage needs, all in a garden-like setting. Across from the buffet is the Gazebo Café, which is a quick place to stop for handmade pizzas, sub sandwiches, snacks, beer, soda or juice, and free coffee every morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. The Royal Table is a more formal steakhouse that features the talents of Chef Dominic in the kitchen. If your tastes tend towards escargot, filet mignon, stuffed lobster tail and vintage wines, then the Royal Table is not to be missed. For those interested in nightlife, all the options that downtown St. Louis has to offer are just minutes away, of course, but guests need look no further than Club Sevens, which features a full bar and dance floor. Friday is karaoke night at Club Sevens, while on Saturdays Paul Arca leads the 103.3 KLOU Dance Party with favorite tunes from the past. Another dining option is found on the second floor of the casino itself. The Riverview Café serves a wide range of American favorites to hungry gamers.
More than Just a Hotel
Part of what makes the Casino Queen unique is its R.V. park, located at the western end of the aforementioned sprawling parking lot. It is large and clean, with pull-through sites and full hook-ups including Internet access and cable TV. A bath house and laundry are on-site, as well as a fully stocked convenience store. Twenty-four hour security is also provided.
The management of the Casino Queen is very proud of its R.V. park, and rightfully so. It is a first-class facility that greatly expands the breadth of the hospitality choices available to visitors. Presumably, most of the R.V. guests are interested in the casino, but an R.V. park just steps away from a hotel with meeting and event facilities opens the possibility for a wider range of events – and participants.
Getting Down to Business
Sometimes, a little work must get done before the partying begins. Jablonski notes that regional meetings, trade associations and middle management gatherings are the most likely groups to take advantage of the hotel’s meeting facilities. The largest space is the 3,200-square-foot ballroom, which seats 219 in classroom format, 264 for a banquet-style event and 337 for a stand-up reception. A dance floor can be laid down anywhere in the room to suit a particular event layout, and a large projector and retractable screen are also available. In addition, if it’s appropriate for the planned event, French doors can be opened from the ballroom into the adjacent indoor pool area, allowing guests to wander and mingle in a less formal setting.
The executive boardroom is 690 square feet, and accommodates 16 around the table. Ample high-speed LAN Internet connections are provided, along with a small mini kitchen, and, best of all, a private restroom. This is the perfect arrangement for a small, extended meeting. Having all the amenities you could wish for at your fingertips leaves no reason for anyone to leave the room until the last details on the agenda are hammered out.
Just slightly smaller at 675 square feet is the hospitality suite, a nearly square room that can host a reception of 50 or a banquet for 32. Another small meeting room, known as the Pavilion Room, is logically located just inside the doors of the Visitor Pavilion. This room is only semi-private because the walls do not reach all the way to the ceiling, so it can be loud if there are more than a few guests in the Pavilion entrance area. Nevertheless, it can seat 80 for a reception, 60 for a banquet or 25 in a classroom setting. Several television monitors are mounted on the walls of this room to facilitate a multi-media presentation.
Not to go unnoticed is the Observation Deck atop the Casino Queen itself. This long open-air space has a roof overhead and spans nearly the entire length of the boat. From here the view of downtown St. Louis is unparalleled, especially at night when the lights of the city are twinkling. The majestic Eads Bridge is a major presence to the north, and the Gateway Arch is just downriver to the south. Here, 400 guests can attend a cocktail reception, or 300 can be seated for dinner. When the weather is right, this can be a stunning place for a special event.
All this, and gambling too! For much the same reason that meeting planners often think of Las Vegas as a popular destination, the Casino Queen – a little slice of Vegas in East St. Louis – can be the perfect mixture of work and play. The clean, comfortable and relatively new hotel offers all the amenities a meeting planner can ask for, and the casino offers fine dining, night club entertainment, and of course, a chance at the big jackpot with 30 table games and 1,100 slot machines. And since the casino’s motto is “The Loosest Slots in the Country,” perhaps the odds will be in your favor.
(Stephen Lindsley is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)
Casino Queen Hotel and Casino
200 Front Street
East St. Louis, IL 62201
618-874-5000 or 800-877-0777