A century-old riverboat that's been a shimmering fixture along St. Louis' Mississippi River banks couldn't survive as an aging casino in the region's fast-growing, glitzier gambling market. But the vessel's sellers are wagering they can find someone willing to give the behemoth a go as something else.
The S.S. Admiral _ home until last summer to The President Casino _ is on the market on eBay and several other online auction sites as a nostalgic relic in search of a buyer willing to convert the 365-foot-long, 95-foot-wide vessel into anything from a monster houseboat to convention digs, upscale dining or more.
"There's just a ton of ways to do it," Virgil Straeter, the owner of an Illinois auction company overseeing the potential sale, said Monday before joking, "You could make a house of it, invite every relative you want and never bump into each other."
Straeter won't discuss what the boat being pitched as the world's biggest inland entertainment vessel could fetch, saying the $1.5 million price listed on eBay for the boat owned until recently by Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment was only a "suggestion." He identified the current owner only as a private marine company in the region.
"The standard answer is that we'll get all we can," said Straeter, of Auction Associates in Highland, Ill. "It's unique to itself, that's for sure."
Online offers will be accepted until noon Nov. 10; if the bids don't enthuse the sellers enough to part with the vessel, a live auction is to be staged later that day.
The boat that's been permanently moored along the river has been stripped of all the gambling vestiges but comes with a considerable cache _ crystal chandeliers, steam tables, office furniture, generators and their backups, large stoves and walk-in coolers. Even garments from its one-time staff, not to mention elevators.
There's a grand ballroom on one of its several decks and enclosed observation decks offering panoramic views elsewhere on the boat, which towers more than six stories above the river's surface. There are tens of thousands of square feet to roam, including a penthouse.
Yet the boat comes with potential headaches. Though the vessel is watertight, the hull below the water line requires a new skin. The diesel engines and drive were removed some two decades ago, hampering immediate efforts to move the boat.
Still, the boat comes with a rich history Straeter hopes an eventual buyer appreciates enough to preserve. Built in 1907 as a Mississippi-crossing ferry, the boat was lengthened by 70 feet in the 1930s and converted into what then was the only air-conditioned excursion boat, according to the eBay listing.
The President was one of the first casinos in Missouri after the state legalized casino gambling in 1993. But over time, the vessel permanently moored near the equally glistening Gateway Arch became by far the St. Louis region's smallest casino and was hampered by its age, size and location.
Flooding over the past several years frequently forced it to temporarily close, and its business suffered as more-modern, fancier casinos cropped up around St. Louis. In December 2007, Pinnacle opened a massive downtown casino called Lumiere Place just a few hundred yards from the President, hastening the President's demise.
Lumiere Place, according to the Missouri Gaming Commission, had revenue of $181.1 million in 2009; the President's revenue was $23.3 million _ down nearly 50 percent from when Pinnacle bought it in 2006.
And last March, Pinnacle opened its River City Casino in south St. Louis County.
Last year, Pinnacle approached Missouri gaming regulators about the prospect of moving the President Casino elsewhere. No formal request was ever made, though, after the commission ruled that moving or replacing the President Casino would require Pinnacle to obtain a new license. Though an appellate court later threw out that decision and sent the matter back to the commission, Pinnacle ultimately opted to close the President.