It opened 16 years ago with bunting, a Dixieland band and a crowd of hundreds.
It closed for the last time a week ago, quietly, with gamblers trickling out into the wee hours of a muggy night.
The last hand has been dealt at St. Louis' oldest casino. The President — forced to close prematurely by rising water on the Mississippi — won't be able to reopen before next week, when the state is set to take its gaming license.
With the river 4 feet above flood stage and still rising, Pinnacle Entertainment said Thursday that gambling on the President is done. They had hoped for one last weekend before a Monday night sendoff, but the mighty river had other plans.
"It's disappointing," said general manager Chris Strobbe. "We had planned a lot of farewells and goodbyes. But there's not much I can do about it."
The President had been closed for almost a week when the final word came Thursday, and outside, the casino was quiet, just some tinny pop music playing in the gangway. A tourist snapped pictures of the muddy, swollen river, which lapped across Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard and streamed through the casino's porte-cochere. A thicket of tree limbs sat clumped around the bow, and a flag was tangled on its pole.
The boat will stay that way until the river recedes, Strobbe said. Then a skeleton crew will haul out the slot machines and furniture, clean the place up and batten it down for an uncertain future.
It's a whimper of an end for the downtown riverboat, which opened to great hope and fanfare in 1994 on the first day of legalized gambling in Missouri.
It performed well at first but was gradually overtaken by larger riverboats and then land-based casinos, and its parent company drifted through bankruptcy court for much of the past decade. In 2006, Pinnacle bought the President, and a year later opened the half-billion-dollar Lumière Place next door. By last year, business had fallen by two-thirds from 2006.
The company studied moving the boat or repairing its hull, but met opposition from the Missouri Gaming Commission. Then, in January, the state moved to strip the President's license for poor performance. After two months of fighting, Pinnacle agreed in March to close the boat and move on.
Since then, it has been a long goodbye tour, Strobbe said. Some staff have already moved on. Guests would come by for one last look at the casino and the iconic Admiral riverboat which houses it. Lots of regulars were planning to come by Monday night, Strobbe said. Now that's off the table.
"It's been difficult," he said. "A lot of folks, they came here for a picnic as a young child. They went to prom. Their first kiss on the top deck of the Admiral. They talk about that stuff."
And it is unclear what is next for the Art Deco riverboat.
Its engines have been gone since 1979 and it needed last-minute welding even to open as a casino 16 years ago. Pinnacle would have had to spend millions fixing the hull to pass an inspection due this summer.
Now, without the revenue generated by a casino operation, it is hard to envision how the boat might be preserved, said Jeff Mansell, executive director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, which named the Admiral to its "11 Most Endangered" list this year.
"You have to look at the expense, and it's going to be tremendous," he said. "It's a unique resource. With it comes unique opportunities, but also unique problems."
Mansell said he hasn't heard of any proposals to buy and fix up the Admiral. A spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay said City Hall hasn't heard much either. Pinnacle, which owns the boat, said it has a few preliminary meetings set up, but doesn't know yet what it will do. "We're still looking into it," said spokesman Mack Bradley. "We obviously hope to have a decision soon."
The other piece of unfinished business involves the President's roughly 200 remaining employees. Pinnacle and the union that represents some of them are in talks about severance packages or job opportunities at the company's other two local casinos. But no deal has been reached.
The workers are planning a rally outside the President on Monday, what they thought would be its last day. Now, they will be rallying outside a boat that is empty for good.