River Towns Take a Risky Gamble

Floating casinos offer fun, nostalgia and America's trendiest new way to lure tourists, but they may be a bad bet for communities trying to cash in

Mark Twain and Charlie Chaplin look-alikes, trailed by a freckle-faced Huck Finn, greet passengers as they come up the gangplank of the Mississippi River's newest paddle-wheeler, Emerald Lady. A Dixieland band lays down tune after tune, while a jokester on stilts tosses colorful doubloons. Waitresses with feathers jutting from their hair sashay through wood-paneled rooms, offering cocktails. As the riverboat pulls out of Fort Madison, Iowa, and steams up and down the Mississippi on a three-hour excursion into the 19th century, it is easy to get swept up in the hoopla. So easy that one can almost forget what this anachronistic...

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