An Iowa Court of Appeals ruling released Wednesday has moved the long legal fight over the Belle of Sioux City Riverboat one step closer to being done.
The court upheld the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s decision to deny the renewal of Penn National Gaming’s license for the casino in April of 2013 after the company failed to renegotiate a contract with the nonprofit Missouri River Historical Development (MRHD).
MRHD president, Mark Monson, says he hopes the ruling finally puts the casino dispute to rest. “We are very pleased with the ruling by the appeals court. It confirms the IRGC actions and the process by which the Hard Rock was selected,” Monson says. “I think it’s good to move on now. Hopefully this is the end of it — but we’ll see.”
IRGC administrator Brian Ohorilko was also happy to hear the ruling. “I truly appreciate the court’s throughout and diligent analysis of the issues before them And the commission approves the hard work of our attorneys. It was really an interesting case and very unique,” Ohorilko says. Iowa’s requires one license for owner to operate the casino, and an agreement with a nonprofit organization which is awarded a license to conduct gambling games.
“It is a unique scheme as I mentioned, but it’s also a very thoughtful licensing scheme that keeps a significant amount of gaming dollars in the state through nonprofit distributions,” according to Ohorilko. The law requires the casino to give a percentage of the revenue to the nonprofit, and the nonprofit is then required to use that money for projects in the community. Ohorilko says the ruling backs the authority of the IRGC to make license decisions.
“The commission had taken some very thoughtful and very deliberate steps just to be sure that we were complying with Iowa law as we were trying to sort through a unique set of circumstances,” Ohorilko explains. “That was not easy, but we felt all along that we were doing the things — not only that we were required to do by Iowa law — but that we thought was fair.” Several years of legal battles are getting close to an end.
“It’s my understanding that the Belle has 20 days to a request for additional review from the Iowa Supreme Court. So, we will just see what happens from here,” Ohorilko says. The Hard Rock Casino opened in downtown Sioux City after Argosy riverboat closed in 2014. The riverboat was eventually sold and towed away.
Woody Gottburg, KSCJ,Sioux City contributed to this story.