The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted unanimously today to deny a stay of the order to close the Sioux City riverboat casino on July 1st. The commission heard 30 minutes of arguments on both sides before reaching their decision.
Attorney Mark Weinhardt, representing the Argosy Casino’s operator, Penn Gaming, asked the commission to keep the casino open until the pending lawsuit is decided or at least until the new land-based Hard Rock Casino opens on August 1st. He says the closing will impact 260 employees. “When the people of the Argosy lose their jobs, they will lose their jobs — people who in some cases have worked there 20 years. They will lose those jobs because the Hard Rock is already fully employed,” Weinhardt says.
He says it’s an emergency situation and keeping the casino open would give the district court judge hearing their lawsuit more time to act on the case. Weinhardt says extending the closing date is also important to the city. “There are people in Sioux City who like to gamble. If you close the boat on Tuesday, the’ll be at least a month where nobody does, where there is no destination to attract people to downtown Sioux City. I would suggest that it’s in everybody’s best interest to keep the boat open while the court decides,” Weinhardt says.
John Lundquist from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office presented the state’s argument. Lundquist says Penn could have brought the request a long time ago. “To sit here and say that we’re facing and emergency — that the judge doesn’t have adequate time to rule — is simply monster of their own creation. This matter could have been submitted to you — and that same judge if you ultimately overrule the request for stay — back in April,” Lundquist says.
Lundquist says the commission made the decision to shut down the riverboat casino because Penn did not have a non-profit sponsor on board when they asked to renew their license. He told the commission they need to maintain the integrity of gambling in the state by sticking with their action, as he says Penn is asking regulators to do something that no other casino in the state has the right to do — which is to operate a casino without a licensed non-profit partner. “No other casino gets to do that,” Lundquist says.
The commission held a brief closed-session discussion before voting to deny the stay. Commission chair, Jeff Lamberti of Ankeny, says they decided the license decision was the correct one. “I think the commission felt like it was necessary to be consistent with what we are doing. That we don’t feel it was in compliance with Iowa law,” Lamberti says. “It’s going to close sometime and that we are going to uphold our decision.”
Lamberti says they understand there will be a gap between the time the riverboat closes and the new land-based casino opens. “We certainly considered that, but I think ultimately the public interest in abiding by the law was more important,” Lamberti says. “Any time you pick a date, it’s going to be a hard issue and we know it affects people. But whether it is today, whether it is the end of July, September or October base on court action, that date is going to come. We just think we need to uphold Iowa law.”
A Polk County district court judge is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Thursday morning.