DES MOINES | For more than three years, lawyers have traveled a long and winding road in a high-stakes dispute over a state regulatory commission's decision that led to the closure of Sioux City's riverboat casino.
The year-old legal case takes what could be one of the final turns on Tuesday, when the Iowa Court of Appeals hears an appeal brought by the Belle of Sioux City, a Penn National Gaming Co. subsidiary that operated the Argosy Sioux City.
The Belle is challenging the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission's actions when granting a state gaming license in 2013 to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City and its local nonprofit partner, Missouri River Historical Development, as well as subsequent judicial rulings that upheld those actions.
The case will be the last of three to be heard in a session that begins at 2:30 p.m. in the Iowa Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines. It will be heard by the three-judge panel of Chief Judge David Danilson, Gayle Nelson Vogel and Amanda Potterfield.
Mark Monson, board president for Missouri River Historical Development, a state-licensed nonprofit gaming group for Woodbury County, said he's hoping Tuesday's hearing is one of the last steps toward ending the legal battle.
"We would look forward to a resolution to this as soon as possible," Monson said. "I'm fairly confident that it will be ruled in favor of the IRGC."
Belle of Sioux City initially appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, which transferred the case to the Court of Appeals in December. The company had filed its notice of appeal in December 2014, challenging District Judge Eliza Ovrum's Nov. 7, 2014, ruling in Polk County District Court that the IRGC had acted within its authority when it granted the gaming license to the Hard Rock and MRHD.
That case was a result of a lengthy contract dispute between Argosy and MRHD that led to the IRGC's decision in April 2013 to accept bids for Woodbury County's first land-based casino.
Belle claims the IRGC's actions were "unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious" and violated state law and the company's rights of due process.
The IRGC ordered the casino to close in July 2014 because it was in violation of a state law that requires casinos to partner with licensed nonprofit groups. The Argosy's license lapsed after MRHD, its then-nonprofit sponsor, refused to sign off on a license renewal application.
Ovrum upheld that IRGC decision, and the floating casino was closed July 30, 2014, two days before the $128 million Hard Rock opened in downtown Sioux City.
The closure of the riverboat casino and opening of the Hard Rock didn't deter Belle from proceeding with its appeal.
"It has been a long, drawn-out process. The commission still feels it acted in accordance with state law," said Brian Ohorilko, IRGC administrator. "We are anxious to see some resolution."
The Argosy riverboat and accompanying structures on shore have since been removed from the Missouri riverfront. The riverboat was sold to an Illinois shipyard.