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Iowa regulators approve sports betting plans for Hard Rock Sioux City, Grand Falls
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Iowa regulators approve sports betting plans for Hard Rock Sioux City, Grand Falls

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NORTHWOOD, Iowa — Two Northwest Iowa casinos received the go-ahead Thursday from state regulators for remodeling projects allowing visitors to wager on professional and college sports.

Without discussion, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission approved projects requested by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City and Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort.

Work is set to begin Monday on the Hard Rock project that will convert 400 square feet of existing casino space into a sportsbook. Grand Falls also plans to start soon on remodeling that will free up existing space for its new sports betting area.

The Hard Rock and Grand Falls are among the first in the state to move forward with bookmaking in the wake of Gov. Kim Reynolds signing a bill last month that legalized wagers on most pro and college athletics. The IRGC on Thursday also approved a remodeling plan for Lakeside Casino near the southern Iowa city of Osceola.

The commission staff has been working "thoroughly and swiftly"" to develop rules for the new form of betting, with a goal of allowing the first bets in early to mid-August, administrator Brian Ohorilko said. 

"The industry is requesting a pretty aggressive timetable to have things implemented by August," Ohorilko told the five-member commission at its meeting at Diamond Jo Worth Casino near Northwood. "We're doing everything we can to do that, but making sure that we're doing it the right way."

Ohorilko said the new rules, required by the legislation, should be posted on the IRGC website by July 1. The commission then will hold a public hearing on the rules at its July 11 meeting at Prairie Meadows in Altoona.

Brian Ohorilko

Ohorilko

At a special July 30 meeting in West Des Moines, the commission likely take action on sports betting issues, including accepting applications from casinos, Ohorilko said.

The remodeling projects approved Thursday are conditional on the casinos being issued a license, and the vendors they select to conduct the sports wagering must pass extensive background checks, Ohorilko said.

In separate action at Thursday's meeting, the commission approved Elite Casino Resorts LLC's request to use Betworks LLC as a provider of sportsbook services for Elite's three Iowa casinos, which include Grand Falls, Riverside Casino & Golf Resort near Iowa City and Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport. The commission also approved Bally Gaming for sportsbook services at Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs. 

Hard Rock and Grand Falls officials have pledged to have their sportsbooks up and running as soon as the IRGC gives final approval. It should occur just as the NFL and college football seasons kick off this fall.

Grand Falls' sportsbook, which will take over space space currently used by weekend musical acts, will feature tables and booths for wagerers to watch their games on large screen monitors. The sportsbook also will have access to the casino's Center Bar and the adjacent Ruthie's Kitchen will serve food, general manager Sharon Haselhoff told the IRGC.  

Jim Franke

Franke

The Hard Rock will free up space for its sportsbook by remodeling 400 square feet of the casino’s high-stakes betting and wine bar area, which currently covers 8,000 square feet. The construction, led by Sioux City-based W.A. Klinger, will cost about $150,000, while the overall project, which will include new technology and fixtures, is estimated at nearly $900,000, Hard Rock general manager Jim Franke said.

Franke said the space will allow guests to watch games and betting lines.

"In the wine bar area, there are already some TVs in there, and there will be some more put in to create an environment," Franke said.

The sportsbook area is nearby the entrance to the casino floor from a new parking ramp under construction. The Hard Rock partnered with the city of Sioux City on the $16 million ramp, which is expected to open in late September. The structure at Third and Pearl streets will have 535 parking spaces and 15,000 square feet of retail space.

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Inter-Ocean Wheel Club
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Evans Driving Park
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Sioux City sports history
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Sioux City sports history
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Sioux City professional baseball team

In an interview with The Journal after Thursday's IRGC meeting, Franke hinted at another major project in the new future.

"Its going to be exciting for the city, the whole sportbook and the rest of the developments that we're planning," Franke said in the interview. 

The sportsbook project at Grand Falls is part of an $10 million expansion that also will include the addition of 63 hotel rooms and an expansion of its RV park, she said.

Haselhoff said the existing 97-hotel is often booked on weekends. The expansion will open up more rooms on Friday and Saturday nights and also allow the casino staff to better promote group overnight outings on weekdays, she said. A new hotel wing will be connected to the existing wing with a skywalk, she said. The new wing, which will also overlook the hotel pool and golf course, is expected to open by next summer.

Grand Falls, located in rural Lyon County site just across the South Dakota border, will move its weekend entertainment to a newly-created space next to its Center Bar on the casino floor. Due to the change, there will no longer be musical groups with drums or other percussion, Haselhoff said. 

Iowa’s law legalizes betting not only on pro and college athletics, but also on daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and FanDuel. The new law does not allow in-game bets — known commonly as proposition, or prop bets — on in-state college teams such as the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones. Such bets usually involve small wagering amounts on things like whether the first free throw of a basketball game is successful or if a player scores a certain number of points.

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Sioux City professional baseball team
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From the Archives baseball
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Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig

At state-licensed casinos, including the Hard Rock and Grand Falls, visitors will be able to wager on games at employee-staffed windows or on their own at kiosks. After an initial registration at the casino, they also will be allowed to place bets online such as on their mobile devices.

A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states other than Nevada to provide bookmaking and betting at casinos and racetracks. 

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