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LARCHWOOD, Iowa – With hundreds of construction workers working around the clock, the Grand Falls Casino Resort is on track to open weeks ahead of schedule.

The $120 million casino, being built just across the South Dakota border near the small Lyon County town of Larchwood, is now slated to debut on May 26, the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, general manager Sharon Haselhoff said.

Kehl Management Co., the project developer, originally projected an opening around the Fourth of July. Getting the structure enclosed just before Thanksgiving allowed interior work to continue unabated during the winter, Hasselhoff said.

“Things have gone really smoothly the last few months,” the general manager said in an interview late last month.

At any one time, around 350 workers are on site, where construction has been going 24 hours day, seven days a week.

Grand Falls also has started its hiring process. Hasselhoff’s top 10 directors were in place as of late February, and other key positions also were being filled this month.

The bulk of the more than 700 full and part-time employees will be brought on during job fairs in April and May. A school for prospective dealers for blackjack and other table game opened on March 7. The instruction helped prepare applicants for live auditions during the first two weeks of May.

The casino expects to hire around 200 dealers, Haselhof said. That’s the largest group of workers, just behind the roughly 220 to 250 that will work in the food and beverage operations.

The hiring will make the casino and resort the largest employer in Lyon County, and one of the largest in the region. Since the county’s small population and low unemployment rate – one of the lowest in Iowa – Grand Falls expects to attract job applicants from more than a 45-mile radius, not only from Iowa, but also neighboring South Dakota and Minnesota.

“We’re confident that we will be able to fill those positions and put a lot of people to work,” Haselhoff said. “It will help the whole economy and area here.”

The casino’s location along Highway 9 is eight minutes from Sioux Falls, which is South Dakota’s largest city with a 2010 population of more than 153,000. Kehl anticipates collecting 80 percent of its $70 million in revenue from Sioux Falls residents and other out-of-state gamblers.

Grand Falls plans to market itself to tourists, including the thousands of motorists who travel through the region annually on nearby Interstates 29 and 90 to and from the Black Hills in western South Dakota.

“This is so much more than a casino,” Haselhoff said. “It’s a destination resort.”

In addition to the casino’s 900 gaming machines, 24 table games, and eight poker table, the complex boasts a 97-room hotel, a 1,200-seat events center, three restaurants, an indoor/outdoor pool and full-service spa.

The events center will host various corporate and social events, as well as big-name entertainers once a month.

In the hotel, some rooms will have fireplaces and balconies overlooking a 30-foot waterfall, which will flow into a geo-thermal 10-acre lake that helps heat and cool the complex.

An adjacent 18-hole golf course, designed by Reese Jones, is scheduled to be added in 2013.

The casino will generate more than $15 million in state and local taxes, and $2.5 million annually for various non-profit groups and charities within Lyon County.

The Lyon County Riverboat Foundation, the non-profit group that holds the casino’s state gaming license, will distribute the latter funds.

Larchwood, a city of 788 people, stands to receive up to $320,000 annually from the Grand Falls operation.

“This (resort/casino) is going to be huge,” Larchwood Mayor Lenny Vanden Bosch said last summer.

Vanden Bosch said the money could be used to waive the city’s portion of property taxes levied upon homes and businesses. It could also help fund the establishment of an assisted living complex, something leaders have considered as a means to keep retirees in town.

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