Developers who hope to win a state license for a new, land-based casino in Sioux City made their pitches to state regulators today.
The Ho-Chunk Tribe proposes building a new “Warrior Casino” next to a restored Warrior Hotel in downtown Sioux City. Lance Morgan, the company’s CEO, stressed the local ownership angle, and told state officials 70 percent of the casino’s profits would stay in the Sioux City area.
“Sioux City is our home. This isn’t a small market amongst a portfolio of our casinos. This Warrior project is going to be vital to the future of what we’re trying to accomplish in our world,” Morgan said. “This isn’t an attempt to build a casino on a small budget. This has all of our attention and if we are awarded this project, we will do what we always do. We will work hard. We will make it happen and we will do something that will make everyone can be proud of.”
Morgan told officials the project would have a half a billion dollar economic impact on the Sioux City area in the first five years the casino’s open.
“This is $122 million investment,” Morgan said. “We’ve raised and committed over $153 million, so we have an extra $31 million and I think it’s just important to note that — so we can make this happen.”
Morgan promises to market not just the casino, but the entire downtown entertainment district as a tourism and entertainment destination.
“Our actual corporate mission is to take gaming dollars and create jobs and economic development. That is our absolute reason for existence and we think there’s no reason that won’t continue with this. It’s in our DNA,” Morgan said. “If we were to get this project, it would be like pouring gas on a fire in that area and we would just keep on growing and keep on reinvesting.”
Morgan also promised to hire folks who’ve been working at the existing riverboat casino in Sioux City. Developers who hope to build a “Hard Rock Casino” in Sioux City were second in today’s speaking rotation. Bill Warner of Warner Gaming told regulators “brands matter.”
“My goal today is to walk you through each aspect of why do believe that we have the best brand, in the best location, with the best amenities, delivered by the best team to result in the greatest economic impact to Iowa,” Warren said.
The Hard Rock Casino would have a yearly $105 million economic impact on the region, according to Warren. The “Hard Rock” brand, first associated with cafes decorated with the memorabilia of famous rock stars, expanded into casinos four years ago. The Sioux City project would include a microbrewery as well as live entertainment.
“There’s 40,000 cars a day that drive past by Sioux City from Canada to Kansas…not stopping…and we believe the Hard Rock brand gives them a reason to stop,” Warren said. “…If you can truly accomplish creating a regional entertainment destination here, you’re going to be reaching out into that 100-mile radius which is 1.1 million adults, ten times more than that local market.”
Warner also stressed the project’s aim to restore Sioux City’s historic “Battery Building” as an anchor for the 16-acre site.
“You can build a great project. You can market all day long, but unless that guest has an amazing experience when they walk in — clean facility, safe facility, high energy, great food, great gaming and just friendly environment, you lost,” Warren said. “So you’ve got to have those things and that’s going to get them coming back and that’s going to get their friends coming back.”
Rather than build a new hotel as part of the project, the Hard Rock would finance expansion of the Stoney Creek Inn Hotel across the street from the Hard Rock property.
Representatives who spoke on behalf of Penn National Gaming’s two proposals — one casino would be just south of Sioux City, the other would be in downtown Sioux City — touted the company’s reputation. Penn has been operating Sioux City’s riverboat casino since 2005, but public disputes with city officials and the non-profit that holds Sioux City’s gambling license were one reason state regulators opened the process for a new, land-based casino license for Sioux City to other bidders. Penn enlisted the services , a former member of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, to begin their pitch to the commission today.
“Penn National is a gaming company with a regional focus, but it’s not just a gaming company with a regional focus. It is in fact the largest regional gaming company in the United States,” May said. “It has 29 facilities that it operates currently in 19 jurisdictions….Furthermore, this is an award-winning management team. They bring experience unparalleled in this environment.”
Bob Knowler is president of the Greater Siouxland Improvement Association, the non-profit that would hold the license if Penn wins this casino competition.
“Having reviewed their status as a major casino operator…their generosity to our community, their loyalty to their employees and their being a good corporate citizen in Sioux City, each of us feels Penn Gaming is the most qualified operator,” he said.
Kelly Connolly, another member of the Greater Siouxland Improvement Association, said Penn’s proposals offered the “best chance of success” for a land-based casino.
“They have a good business model, with solid financials and a proven management team that has been successful at least in 29 casinos throughout North America,” Connolly said. “Not one other proposal here today can match these qualifications.”
A Penn Gaming official chided state officials during his remarks, saying his company hadn’t counted on losing the Sioux City market for anything other than “malfeasance…poor performance or bad faith.”
Members of the Racing and Gaming Commission will visit the four proposed sites for casinos on March 26th and hold a public hearing in Sioux City that day as well.