A Polk County, Iowa judge recently heard arguments why Warrior Entertainment, comprised of Ho-Chunk Inc. and others involved in trying to bring a casino to downtown Sioux City, should join the Belle of Sioux City’s claim against the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. Ho-Chunk’s attorney said they were the victim of a “grossly flawed” application procedure for a state gambling license that ultimately was awarded to the Hard Rock casino developers, Sioux City Entertainment. Belle owner Penn National Gaming sued the IRGC, claiming the license selection process was flawed. Penn National also has sued to stop the IRGC from closing the riverboat by July 1.
Nicole Jensen-Harris, City Attorney for Sioux City, said, “We feel Ho-Chunk should have filed for judicial review at the time Belle did, which would have been proper last May.” Guy Cook, a lawyer for Sioux City Entertainment, added, “If they’re allowed to get into this, it opens the flood gates of other people that want to get in.”
Benjamin Maxwell, a lawyer for Ho-Chunk, said the case is just beginning, and that the bidding process may have been flawed. “Warrior expended $1.3 million on its application, as well as 1,000 man hours in putting that application together,” Maxwell said. He noted if the case is remanded to the IRGC, and a new license is awarded, Warrior still could have a chance to realize their casino. Argosy lawyer Mark Weinhardt said, “We’re happy to have other people shooting at the IRGC besides us.” Both Argosy and Warrior would like the bidding process to start again.
Ho-Chunk lawyers said it may take 30 days before the judge announces if they can join the lawsuit. If not, the lawyers said Ho-Chunk may consider filing their own lawsuit against the IRGC.
Meanwhile, IRGC members recently visited the site of a proposed casino in Jefferson in Greene County and heard public comments about it. Wild Rose Entertainment wants to build a $40 million casino resort there, including an 18,000 square foot casino with 500 slots and 14 table games, plus restaurants, a conference center and a 71-room hotel. The project would create more than 270 jobs. The nonprofit license holder would be Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation. Wild Rose Chief Executive Officer Tom Timmins said the casino would generate about $30 million a year, resulting in $1.5 million for charitable groups in Greene County and the surrounding area. The commission will announce its decision on June 12.
Last August, Greene County voters passed a casino referendum with 75 percent approval, the highest level of support for an initial casino vote in Iowa. And in April, the IRGC voted 4-1 to deny a license for a proposed $164 million casino in Cedar Rapids because studies indicated it would cannibalize existing casinos. Said Timmins, “I’ve never believed these two projects were the same. It’s more than just a casino to Greene County. When you look at the project, one of the things they’re coming forward with is as a regional project.”