A Polk County judge has granted the request of the operator of the Belle of Sioux City to put a hold on a new license to another company for a land-based casino to replace the riverboat. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) opened up the license process for the land-based casino after Penn National Gaming could not come to an agreement with its non-profit group.
Penn sued after losing out in the land license application process to Sioux City Entertainment, which is building a Hard Rock Casino in the downtown area. Penn National vice president, Karen Bailey, says the company is grateful for the judge’s ruling. “That is obviously a great relief for our employees given the turmoil that they have been through and gives them obviously that our side is finally being hear — an our side of the story and our side of what took place,” Bailey said.
Penn National’s lawyer has repeatedly asked the IRGC to reconsider its license decision, saying the commission broke rules and gave an improper advantage to Sioux City Entertainment in considering bid materials for the new license. The latest request was turned down at last month’s commission meeting, as commission members said they felt they acted properly.
Bailey says Penn National will continue to press its case in court. “From a legal perspective, we are going to continue to argue our case based on the court’s schedule and we do believe in the merits of the case that we brought forward,” Bailey says.
Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission administrator, Brian Ohorilko, talked with Radio Iowa about the ruling. “The commission is reviewing that ruling with the Attorney General’s office and just trying to determine what options we may have at this time,” Ohorilko says. Ohoriko says the ruling puts a stay on granting a license for the new casino, but says the developer has the option to continue work on the building. “We feel that the construction being conducted by Sioux City Entertainment could proceed and it would be just up to the operator, knowing that they would not be able to open in July as they had anticipated,” Ohorilko says.
He says it could be a year before the case works through the legal system. “Currently those cases are scheduled to be heard in December 2014 — and so, essentially it just puts everything on hold until that time,” Ohorilko says. Ohorilko believes this is the first time the commission’s granting of a license has been held up by court action.
Ohorilko says,”It is that I can think of — at least in the recent years. We are definitely treading in uncharted territory.”
He says the entire situation with Penn National and the non-profit Missouri River Historical Development (MHRD) has been unusual. “The commission has never experienced a non-profit license holder and a for-profit license holder letting the operating agreement lapse,” Ohorilko explains. “And so everything regarding this situation is unique and so we’re making the best decisions that we can given the circumstances.” The I-R-G-C had said the riverboat would continue operating until the new casino was open and operating.
Bill Warner, the President of Sioux City Entertainment, issued this statement on Judge Robert Hanson’s casino ruling:
“We are reviewing the court’s ruling. We continue to respect Iowa’s judicial and regulatory processes, and are confident that the correct outcome will prevail.”
Woody Gottburg of KSCJ in Sioux City contributed to this story.