SIOUX CITY | The state gaming license issued to the Hard Rock-branded casino in Sioux City takes center stage in a courtroom Thursday.

At a hearing set to begin at 1 p.m. in Des Moines, Polk County District Court Judge Eliza Ovrom will hear oral arguments from attorneys representing Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City developer, SCE Partners; the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which granted the license on April 18; and the owner of the Argosy Sioux City riverboat casino, which wants to overturn the IRGC vote.

The Iowa Supreme Court on Jan. 9 ordered the district court to reconsider an earlier ruling that had temporarily suspended the Hard Rock license until the Argosy's litigation against the IRGC was finished.

The Supreme Court instructed the lower court to decide whether it had the authority or jurisdiction to stay the license while SCE Partners was not a party to the case.

If Ovrom finds the Hard Rock developer should have been joined as a party prior to the stay being issued, the court must allow SCE to present evidence, and reconsider its Dec. 10 decision, which was issued by District Court Judge Robert Hanson. The case has since been reassigned to Ovrom as part of a routine judge rotation schedule.

In a motion filed Wednesday, attorneys for Penn asked Ovrom to exclude large portions of the pre-hearing briefs and exhibits filed by the IRGC and SCE Partners, arguing the arguments fall far outside the limited scope of the Supreme Court's remand order.

Half of the SCE's briefs, Argosy attorneys said, are devoted to legal arguments and evidence over why the Argosy is unlikely to prevail on the merits of its suit against the IRGC, and have "almost nothing to do with" SCE or its purposed interest in the stay, Argosy attorneys said in the court documents.

Nearly all of the IRGC's pre-hearing briefs, Argosy says, attempt to "relitigate" the floating casino's earlier arguments that the IRGC violated state law in awarding Woodbury County's first land-based gaming license to SCE Partners and its nonprofit partner, Missouri River Historical Development.

In its pre-hearing briefs, Hard Rock repeated its assertion that even a temporary suspension could cause the $128.5 million project to collapse before it is finished.

SCE, a partnership between entities controlled by Bill Warner and Brent Stevens, said it has already spent $47.5 million on the entertainment venue, which includes renovating the historic Battery Building at Third and Water streets and constructing an adjoining 55,852-square-foot structure. That's a $3 million increase since the last time the developer reported its current expenditures in court documents.

The Supreme Court instructed Ovrom to render a ruling on the Hard Rock license issue by Feb. 15. The remand order also instructs the lower court to expedite its schedule for the broader IRGC lawsuit.

Under the existing court schedule, Hanson's stay would have remained in place until after completion of final arguments in the case, which had been set for December 2014. That would have delayed the opening of the Hard Rock, on schedule for late summer, by six months or longer.

Upon completion, the Hard Rock is scheduled to replace the Argosy, docked on the Missouri River. IRGC attorneys point out that the regulatory body has taken no action to revoke the floating casino's license.


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