Posted Online: July 05, 2013, 7:12 pm

Riverboat gambling pioneer dies in Dubuque

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By Stephen Elliott, selliott@qconline.com

Photo: Submitted
Robert J.Kehl, 78, of Dubuque, Iowa, died at home Wednesday, July 03, 2013.
Robert J. Kehl, 78, of Dubuque, Iowa -- one of the pioneers of riverboat gambling -- died at his home Wednesday.

Mr. Kehl was granted Iowa's first riverboat gambling license in 1990. In April 1991, he opened the Dubuque Casino Belle; it closed in March 1993.

According to his obituary, Mr. Kehl started his first business at 18 and created 27 different businesses throughout his career.That work culminated in the creation of Iowa's modern-day casino industry, with theKehl Development Corp. designing and developing several Iowa casinos and overseeing the construction and renovation of more than 15 gaming riverboats and land-based facilities.

"John Connelly, Bernie Goldstein, and the (Robert) Kehl family -- those three guys really started the industry," said Mary Ellen Chamberlin, president of the Riverboat Development Authority, which holds the casino license for Rhythm City Casino in Davenport.

"I think we will be the only nonprofit to be licensed with all of the pioneers of the industry," she said.

In May, the RDA selected the Kehl Development Corporation to build a land-based casino and hotel in Davenport. Kehl and Isle of Capri, which owns the Rhythm City Casino, have entered into an agreement giving Kehl an exclusive, nontransferrable option to buy Rhythm City Casino.

Mr. Kehl's son, Dan, is chief executive officer of Kehl Development Corporation.

Robert Kehl received numerous honors during his career, including the Small Business Administration's "National Small Business Person of the Year Award" in 1986 presented by former President Ronald Reagan at the White House.

Robert Kehl's funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Columbkille Catholic Church in Dubuque. Burial will be in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Dubuque, with military honors accorded by American Legion Post No. 6 of Dubuque.