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Judge Eliza Ovrom at bench

Iowa District Court Judge Eliza Ovrom, is shown Jan. 30 in a Polk County courtroom. Ovrom ruled Thursday that attorneys for the Argosy Sioux City riverboat casino will not be allowed to depose Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission Chairman Jeff Lamberti or former commissioner Greg Seyfer.

DES MOINES | The owner of Sioux City's floating casino is raising questions about the identity of the holder of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City's state gaming license.

In legal briefs filed Thursday, attorneys for the Argosy Sioux City gambling boat asked a state judge to "reject the made-up notion" that SCE Partners LLC holds the Hard Rock license.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission issued the license instead to a related company, Sioux City Entertainment Inc., as well as its nonprofit partner, Missouri River Historical Development.

Because it is not the licensee, SCE Partners has no legal right to intervene in a case related to the Hard Rock license, attorneys for Argosy parent Penn National Gaming Co. contend in the briefs.

The Iowa Supreme Court last month ordered Polk County District Court to reconsider Judge Robert Hanson's Dec. 10 ruling that suspended the Hard Rock license pending a final verdict in  Argosy's lawsuit that seeks to overturn the IRGC vote.

After SCE Partners and the IRGC appealed, Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel granted a temporary stay of Hanson's decision while the district court reviews the case.

"Because SCE Partners does not hold the license that the Supreme Court presumed it does, there is no basis to conclude that SCE Partners should have been joined in this proceeding to protect that license," Argosy attorneys wrote in a brief to Polk County District Court Judge Eliza Ovrom.

The brief was filed in response to a Jan. 30 hearing in which Ovrom, following instructions from the Supreme Court, heard arguments over whether the district court had the authority or jurisdiction to stay the license while SCE Partners was not a party to the case.

During the Jan. 30 hearing in Des Moines, Argosy attorney Jeffrey Tayback extensively cross-examined Hard Rock developer Bill Warner about the license, SCE Partners and Sioux City Entertainment.

Sioux City Entertainment is a subsidiary of Las Vegas-based Warner Gaming LLC, which Warner founded and continues to serve as CEO. SCE Partners is a partnership between Warner and former Iowa casino executive Brent Stevens, who put up more than $30 million in equity financing.

In an affidavat filed Thursday with Ovrom, Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission administrator Brian Ohorilko acknowledged the IRGC awarded the license to Sioux City Entertainment/MRHD on April 18.

At its next meeting in June, however, the commission approved a contract related to financing and construction of the Hard Rock venue that transferred Sioux City Entertainment's assets to SCE Partners, Ohorilko said.

"The new entity (SCE Partners LLC) is considered by the commission to be the operator licensee," Ohorilko said in the affidavit.

Ohorilko's assertion is "belied by the fact that ever since the alleged June 2013 asset transfer," the IRGC has continued to refer to the licensee as "Sioux City Entertainment" in its official agenda, minutes and court filings, Argosy attorneys countered.

"If the IRGC simply 'considers' SCE Partners to be licensed, then this is yet another example of the IRGC bending its rules, and the law, to favor SCE (or SCE Partners) over the (Argosy)," the attorneys wrote. "This highlights why the court should not disturb Judge Hanson's finding that the (Argosy) had made a substantial showing that the IRGC has acted unlawfully."

The Supreme Court order gave Ovrom until Feb. 15 to rule on the Hard Rock license.


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