Argosy Closes, Hard Rock Sioux City Opens

"Attention! The Argosy Casino is closed. Please exit the facility at this time." Thus with that announcement the Argosy Sioux City riverboat unceremoniously shut its doors for good. Two nights later celebrations and fanfare greeted the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City (l.) downtown. Argosy owner Penn National still has two lawsuits pending.

After 21 years, the Argosy Sioux City on the Missouri River complied with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s order to shut down at 5 p.m., July 30. A female voice announced, “Attention! The Argosy Casino is closed. Please exit the facility at this time.”

Several dozen patrons still were playing slots and blackjack in the final half-hour as casino officials began clearing the floor. Then, at the close of business–forever—IRGC staff watched as Argosy techs counted receipts in all of the slots and table games and then inventoried all the gaming equipment, tagged it and removed it.

Argosy Operations Manager Zach Rosenbaum said the final workday was “surreal.” He said, “I’ve known some of these people for 22 years. There’s been a lot of hugs. A lot of the ladies have been crying.” About 240 people still were employed at the riverboat, down from a high of 325. Several Argosy employees have signed on at the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City, which opened at 8 p.m. Friday, August 1 in downtown Sioux City, replacing the riverboat. Hard Rock developer Bill Warner and General Manager Todd Moyer took part in a “guitar breaking” ceremony followed by a free concert.

The IRGC had ordered the Argosy to shut down because it was in violation of state law requiring casinos to partner with a state-licensed local nonprofit group. Argosy and its former partner, Missouri River Historical Development, could not come to terms on a contract renewal and MRHD joined forces with Hard Rock.

Penn National Gaming fought the commission’s closure order for months and was appealing the ruling when, on July 25, the Iowa Supreme Court ordered the boat to close. Penn National has two other lawsuits still pending. In one, Penn National alleges MRHD “secretly” began discussions with other operators to replace Penn a year before its agreement expired. The agreement named Penn National as the “exclusive licensee” to operate a gambling enterprise in Woodbury County, the company said. A trial date has not been set for that case. In the other suit, which will be heard on December 22 in Polk County District Court, Penn National alleges the IRGC’s decision to deny Argosy’s gambling license was unfair.
Last year Penn National lost its right to operate a land-based casino in Sioux City. The license was awarded to Sioux City Entertainment, developers of the Hard Rock casino and hotel, and MRHD.

The $130 million Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, built around the historic 110-year old Battery Building, features the brand’s signature guitar logo on the clock tower. The property also includes a 54-room boutique hotel, 40,000 square foot casino, global-themed buffet, a restaurant with outdoor dining, outdoor pool, event park and 850-seat amphitheater. General Manager Todd Moyer said, “It’s been a challenging project, restoring a building that’s 110 years old, but it’s really awesome how everything came together, and it looks dynamite.” He noted the hotel rooms were renovated “to maintain the original look of the building and the great craftsmanship. The amenities are first-class, but it’s housed in what kind of feels like a warehouse loft apartment.”

Moyer said 200 nights of entertainment already are scheduled in the next year, including an August 30 concert with the Goo Goo Dolls and Daughtry. “At the end of the day, we’re really an entertainment company. We have a pretty diverse lineup, a little bit of something for everyone.”

MRHD President Mark Monson said while the Argosy grossed $60 million in annual gaming revenue, the Hard Rock is expected to gross $90 million annually, with the nonprofit’s share of revenues expected to rise from $1.8 million to almost $4 million a year. “That money all goes back to nonprofits and public entities like cities. With that extra money, we intend to participate in economic development within the county. We probably will look at workforce development because we have an awful workforce problem here. Everybody needs help. Everybody,” Monson said.

Moyer said, “We’ve gotten a lot of interest from Sioux Falls and we’ve hired a lot of team members from the Sioux Falls area. It’s an easy drive.” He said the property, which will employ more than 500 people, still has about 40 open positions.

With a population of 82,719, Sioux City is the smallest U.S. city with a Hard Rock-branded casino or hotel. The next closest is in Tulsa, Oklahoma.