The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s vote Thursday to award a casino license to a group that will bring a land-based casino to Sioux City ends years of fighting over the riverboat casino that’s now operating there. The commission decided to open up the application process for the land-based casino after continued fights between riverboat operator Penn Gaming and non-profit Missouri River Historical Development (MHRD).
Commissioner Gregy Seyfer took the city and MHRD to task at Thursday’s meeting. “I believe Merd had the duty to try everything within its power to come to an agreement with its operator,” Seyfer says.
He says when he came onto the commission in 2006 his orientation by then Racing and Gaming director Jack Ketterer taught him that a gaming license was a privilege and not a right, and that guiding principle of the commission was to uphold and protect the integrity of the gaming industry.
“I question the integrity of MHRD and the city,” Seyfer said.
The commission selected the Hard Rock Casino proposal from four options on a 3-2 vote, with Seyfer and commissioner Delores Mertz each voting for other proposals. Commission chair, Jeff Lamberti, said the split vote showed how tough a decision it was.
“It was essentially a three-one-one vote so to speak, and you know I never anticipated we’d have a unanimous vote,” Lamberti said. “Because as I looked at the quality of these projects, I saw how hard it was for me to make a decision, and I knew the other commissioners were struggling, and I think it speaks to the quality of these proposals.”
Lamberti says the future is now more clear for Sioux City. “It’s been a long hard process, a difficult decision, now it’s time to move on. And we know at the end of the day it’s going to be good for the community, it’s going to be good for the state of Iowa, but it doesn’t lessen how hard it was. And we know that real people were affected by our decision,” Lamberti said.
One of the big impacts is on Penn Gaming, which lost out on its bid to continue operating in Sioux City. Karen Bailey is Penn’s vice president for public affairs. “We are obviously very disappointed in the decision and the implications that we have as it relates to our employees as well as our shareholders,” Bailey said.
She also thank everyone for the time they put into Penn’s rejected proposal for the land base casino. Bailey said the employees of the Argosy Riverboat will have several options as it closes down.
“There’s going to obviously be opportunities for them within our own company for those who wish to stay with Penn and go to other properties, and we will also work and support them as we go through the next couple of years of construction,” Bailey said.
The commission set a timeline of March 2015 to have the new casino on the west end of downtown open.
By Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City