Flood Damaged Casino Re-Opens

The slot machines are spinning again at an Iowa casino which had been closed by a disaster.

Casino Omaha is about an hour north of downtown Omaha between Onawa, Iowa and Decatur, Nebraska.

The casino was right in the middle of the flooding in 2011.

Eighteen months after the flood, the casino has re-opened.

"When the flood hit we had two weeks to get everything out of here," Casino CEO Bill Walsh said. "The water sat in here quite a while and everything turned to mold. So we had to literally gut the entire building."

Today, Walsh walked through the casino's restaurant, a 6,800 foot space that has been converted into a temporary casino.

Renamed Blackbird Bend Casino, it's much smaller than the original.

There are only 85 operable machines with another 100 on the way.

It's been a tough run for the people who work here.

"The immediate impact in the area all of these people are out of work they didn't spend the money they were making and it created a lot of problems for a lot of people," Walsh said.

Vandy Merrick was among the 138 tribal members suddenly out of work.

"That's a long drive home to be able to tell the people that you love that you take care of 'I'm not going to be able to provide,'" she said. "You have to go and apply for that assistance and it's never enough."

Today, Merrick's one of 73 back on the job.

She said times were tight for many tribe members in an area with limited employment options.

"There's so many people out of work that everybody's going to the same place for employment," she said.

Merrick was able to secure a job as a bartender in Sioux City, but now she's back at the casino as the Slot Manager.

Walsh said the re-opening was anticipated by customers almost as much as the workers.

"The tribal members here they want to work," he said. "They want to earn money for their family and even the non-tribal members they worked so hard to get things done and we wouldn't even be open if it wasn't for the employees."

A new building will go up at the site.

Walsh said they hope to start construction in March.

Plans are for it to be much larger than the original casino with more slots and gaming tables added.

It's expected to take about 18 months to build.


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