Emerald Queen Casino Riverboat Sold, Vessel Solidified Puyallup Tribe Sovereignty

The original Emerald Queen Casino riverboat that helped assure the economic sovereignty of the Puyallup Tribe in Washington more than a quarter-century ago has been sold.

Emerald Queen Casino Puyallup Tribe Washington
A vacant riverboat that was once the Emerald Queen Casino has been sold by the Puyallup Tribe. The boat was a casino from 1997 until its closing in 2004. (Image: Northwest Yachting)

One of 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington, the Puyallup Tribe, like so many other Native American communities across the US, turned to gaming in 1996 to serve as its economic heartbeat. Instead of constructing a tribal casino on its sovereign land, the tribe purchased a shuttered Mississippi riverboat casino in 1997 and relocated the paddlewheel to Tacoma.

The tribe’s original Emerald Queen Casino was berthed in the Port of Tacoma on the Blair Waterway. Following years of success catering to gamblers in the Seattle market, the Puyallup Tribe was financially capable of building an entirely new tribal casino on land.

The Emerald Queen Casino along E. 29th St. just south of Interstate 5 opened in 2001. The tribe continued to operate the Emerald Queen riverboat until 2004, when the Puyallups agreed with the Port of Tacoma to shutter the vessel to accommodate additional commercial development of the waterway.

In exchange, Tacoma allowed the tribe to open another Emerald Queen Casino in nearby Fife. That gaming venue commenced operations on Dec. 29, 2004.

Riverboat Set for New Use

The Puyallup Tribe held on to its shuttered riverboat since it closed 19 years ago. But the boat has finally found a buyer in Spectra Crane and Marina, a Seattle-based firm that leases maritime vessels.

The riverboat served our tribe well and laid the foundation for us to open and operate the two premier casinos in the Northwest,” the Puyallup Tribal Council said in a statement.

Spectra owner Boyer Halverson told Tacoma’s News Tribune this week that plans for the former floating casino have not yet been determined. But he thinks he likely overpaid for the boat.

“I can tell you that I probably paid too much,” Halverson admitted. “But it will be okay. We can make something out of it.”

Built in 1995 by Louisiana-based Quality Shipyard and Kehl River Boats at a cost of $15 million — $30 million in today’s dollars — the three-story vessel with a roof deck has 70,000 square feet of interior space. The casino was able to board 2,000 people at a time.

The vessel was constructed to mimic the classic paddlewheel riverboats that plied the Mississippi River in the 19th century.

“Born on the bayou, this Cajun gem is a classic homage to the nation’s proud riverboating heritage, giving credence to any potential plans for a revival as a future clearwater palace — whether it’s anchored at port or just rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river,” the boat’s sale listing read prior to its sale.

The asking price earlier this month was $1 million. Neither the tribe nor Halverson would confirm the final transaction price.

Greener Pastures

The newest Emerald Queen Casino is the tribe’s largest and glitziest property yet. The tribe opened the new integrated resort in the midst of the pandemic in May 2020.

The $400 million Emerald Queen Casino is adjacent to the former land-based Emerald Queen along I-5. The casino features more than 2,100 slots, 60 table games, and a 250-seat sportsbook.

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