DES MOINES | Did the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission act appropriately when it awarded a gaming license to the developer of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in April?
The owner of the Argosy Sioux City floating casino says no and has gone to court in an effort to have the IRGC action overturned.
Last week, the presiding judge in Polk County District Court scheduled final arguments for Dec. 22, 2014. That means the case likely won't be settled until January 2015 at the earliest -- months after the Hard Rock opens. The $128.5 million venue, under construction in downtown Sioux City, is expected to be up and running late next summer.
The onshore casino is scheduled to replace the Argosy, docked on the Missouri River.
In September, Argosy parent Penn National Gaming Co. filed a motion to block work on the Hard Rock until its litigation against the IRGC is settled. The parties are waiting for a decision from Judge Robert Hanson.
Regardless of the decision on the temporary injunction request, Penn's broader challenge to the IRGC actions would go forward.
The nation's second-largest gaming operator filed its appeal under the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act, which allows individuals and businesses to petition for a judicial review of actions by state agencies such as the IRGC.
In its lawsuit, Penn claims the IRGC violated its own rules, state and federal laws, as well as the company's constitutional protections. The Wyomissing, Pa.-based firm also alleges the commission ignored a series of deficiencies and improprieties in the Hard Rock group's application.
The IRGC has denied any wrongdoing, saying it acted within the authority state law grants the regulatory body.
In a 3-1-1 vote on April 18, the commission picked the Hard Rock project over three other proposals, including Penn's offer of a Hollywood-themed casino at a rural or urban location.
Penn wants the court to reverse or vacate that vote, as well as two earlier IRGC actions. They include the commission's decision in June 2012 to put Woodbury County's state gaming license up for bid, and the IRGC's refusal the next month to ratify a contract extension signed by the company and its former nonprofit partner, Missouri River Historical Development.
The commission's actions, attorneys for Penn argue, represent a "de facto" revocation of the Argosy license. Though its contract with MRHD expired in July 2012, the IRGC has allowed the floating casino to stay open under what's known as operation of law.
While similar to a regular district court proceeding, there is no right to a jury in a judicial review case. All decisions are rendered by a judge.
Judges also have the discretion whether to accept discovery. In his scheduling order last week, Hanson approved a discovery and briefing schedule requested by the plaintiffs. It sets an Aug. 25, 2013, deadline for discovery.
A two-hour evidentiary hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 26, 2014. That hearing will be similar to a trial in which attorneys are allowed to call witnesses and present other evidence, Iowa Assistant Attorney General John Lundquist said Monday.
Two hours of oral arguments are scheduled for Dec. 22, 2014. That hearing will be similar to closing arguments in a trial, Lundquist said.