The long-fought legal battle over a state regulatory commission’s 2014 decision that led to the closure of Sioux City’s riverboat casino in Iowa may be coming to an end.
The last go round for the year-old legal case could happen on Tuesday when an appeal brought by the former Argosy Casino’s parent company, the Belle of Sioux City, is heard by the Iowa Court of Appeals. Being challenged by the Belle is the decision by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) to grant a state gaming license to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City and the Missouri River Historical Development (MRHD), which is the Hard Rock developer, SCE Partners LLC nonprofit license holder, as well as the series of regulatory decisions that upheld those actions.
A three-judge panel of Chief Judge David Danilson, Gayle Nelson Vogel and Amanda Potterfield will hear the case, which will be the last of three to be held in a session at the Iowa Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines that begins at 2:30 p.m. Hoping the hearing on Tuesday is one of the last steps toward ending the legal battle is Mark Monson, MRHD’s’ board president. MRHD is a nonprofit gaming group licensed by the state for Woodbury County. Monson said he was “fairly confident” that the court rules in MRHD’s favor.
The case was transferred to the Court of Appeals in December, after the Belle of Sioux City’s initial appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court. The company filed its notice of appeal challenging District Judge Eliza Ovrum’s Nov. 7, 2014, ruling in Polk County District Court that the IRGC’s decision to grant the gaming license to the Hard Rock and MRHD was within its scope. The ruling left Penn National Gaming Co., the boat’s operator, without any viable options to save the 250-employee riverboat casino on the Missouri River. The case resulted from a lengthy contract dispute that led to the IRGC’s April 2013 decision to accept bids for the first land-based casino in Woodbury County. Bells claims that its right to due process was violated by the IRGC, and that several state laws were broken in the process.
In July 2014, the casino was ordered to close by the IRGC after a determination that the riverboat was in violation of a state law that requires casinos licensed by the state partner with a licensed local nonprofit group. After the MRHD refused to sign off on an application for license renewal the Argosy’s license lapsed. The decision by the IRGC was upheld by Ovrum and on July 30, 2014 the floating casino was closed, beating the opening of the $128 million Hard Rock in downtown Sioux City by two days.
Since the closing, the Argosy riverboat and on shore accompanying structures have been removed from the Missouri riverfront. An Illinois shipyard purchased the riverboat.