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John E. Connelly: Wikis


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John Edward Connelly (August 1926-May 16, 2009) was an entrepreneur who founded the Gateway Clipper Fleet in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pioneered riverboat casino gambling along the Mississippi River via his President Casinos empire, and founded a fleet of ships operating out of Chelsea Piers in New York City.


Early life

Connelly was born in Pennsylvania. His parents died when he was 16. He was a coal miner and edited a newspaper at Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. In the 1940s he was a Congressional assistant for Congressman Harry J. Davenport. [1]

Pittsburgh businesses


Incentive marketing

In the early 1950s he founded J. Edward Connelly in Pittsburgh which incentive marketing which pioneered the concept of giving away products at banks and super markets in order to attract business. He was called the father of the practice and was called to testify before Congress after merchants complained it was an unfair practice. [2]

Gateway Clipper

While being treasurer of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority which was cleaning up Pittsburgh rivers he came up with concept of starting excursion boats to show that the rivers around Pittsburgh had been cleaned up. In 1958 he started the Gateway Clipper Fleet.

He acquired the Sheraton Hotel at Station Square in 1981.

In 1971 he was the Democratic nominee in a race to replace Representative Robert J. Corbett who had died in office. He lost to H. John Heinz III.

Riverboat Expansion

Chelsea Piers in New York City

In 1983 Connelly acquired control of World Yacht, a dinner cruise company in New York City founded by Neil Heap and Peter Simonetta in 1969. Connelly got access to three berths in the Chelsea Piers and was instrumental in its redevelopment. He expanded the fleet to three boats. In 1988 World Yacht was purchased by Circle Line for $35 Million. [3]

St. Louis, Missouri

In 1981 he acquired the largest excursion ship plying the Mississippi River -- the SS Admiral in St. Louis, Missouri from Streckfus Steamers. He sold it to investors in 1982. He began managing it again in 1988 and reacquired it in 1990.

He also acquired the excursion boats Huck Finn and Becky Thacher as well as the Robert E. Lee floating restaurant. All of the boats formed a steamship row docked at the foot of the Gateway Arch.

President Casinos

In 1990 he acquired the President (steamboat) which was on the National Register of Historic Places in Davenport, Iowa. He also acquired the Blackhawk Hotel in downtown Davenport which is also on the National Register.

Iowa was the first state to legalize riverboat gambling in modern times and the President became one of the first casinos to open.

In 1992 he acquired the President Casino Broadwater Resort in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was the second casino on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi.

In 1992 he formed President Casinos

In 1993 he converted the Admiral in St. Louis to be one of the first casinos in Missouri after that state legalized gambling.

As a pioneer in gambling in three states, stock soared. He held one third of the company stock and he was worth $107 million. His total net worth of $370 million had him on the Forbes list of richest Americans. He entered the bidding to bring an expansion team to St. Louis after the St. Louis football Cardinals left the city.[4]

However the stock soon plummeted as Illinois legalized riverboat gambling and more casino competition arose. Further complicating matters the Great Flood of 1993 forced the lengthy closure of the casinos. By 1996 his share of stock was valued at $14.7 million. He cut the pledge to $7 million and received a contract to exclusively sell reproductions of Vatican art in the United States. However the deal was eventually halted after he could not market the art beyond Pittsburgh.[5]

His Mississippi efforts were challenged by Jack E. Pratt of the Pratt Hotel Corporation which said it had the rights to develop the Broadwater Resort. Although the case was dismissed Connelly paid out $1 million. He sold the Iowa casino after Illinois legalized gambling on its side of the river.

In 1993 it entered into an agreement with the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Tribe to develop a landbased casino in the Catskill Mountains in New York. It would lose $4.1 million on the project which was never built.

It entered into a planned casino in Gary, Indiana which fell through. It lost $11 million when a proposed casino in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania fell through. In 1995 it closed its money losing casino in Tunica, Mississippi. The company pitched a casino plying the waters of New York City which never materialized.

The company ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002 and has now divested itself of all its gambling operations.

Competency hearing

In 2006 he was the subject of a family battle with his adoptive daughter Audree Wirginis to wrest control of the company on the basis competence.[6] He was ultimately removed as chairman of his companies.


In the early 1990s he pledged $13 million of the $20 million required to build the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a hotel at the Vatican where cardinals and other dignataries would stay on visits to the Vatican (and where they stay during elections of Popes). When he made the pledge his shares of President Casinos were worth $107 million but by 1996 his share of stock was valued at $14.7 million. He cut the pledge to $7 million and received a contract to exclusively sell reproductions of Vatican art in the United States. However the deal was eventually halted after he could not market the art beyond Pittsburgh.[5]

His donations to Saint Louis University resulted in the school renaming the main dividing street for the campus from "West Pine Mall Boulevard" to "John E. Connelly Mall."


  1. ^ Achievement Award Winners - National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium - Retrieved February 11, 2009
  2. ^ Bank giveaways : hearing before the Select Committee on Small Business, United States Senate, Ninety-fourth Congress, first session ... July 16, 1975 1946317
  3. ^ Circle Line Sails to Top With Dinner Cruise Deal - Crains New York Business - August 22, 1988
  4. ^ "FOOTBALL; Riverboat Casino Owner Bidding for Action in N.F.L. - New York Times." The New York Times. September 23, 1993. Retrieved February 05, 2009 from HighBeam Research:
  5. ^ a b Connelly's plan to market replicas never took hold beyond Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - January 9, 2001
  6. ^ "Gateway Clipper founder battles family for control of business empire." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA). McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. July 27, 2006. Retrieved February 05, 2009 from HighBeam Research:


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