(SIOUX CITY, IA) Just a few weeks after the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission gave the green light to build a Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City. The company that owns the current Argosy Casino is fighting back.
Penn National Gaming says city leaders claimed they weren't taking sides but Penn says city e-mails tell a different story.
Penn National sent out an e-mail today, several pages long, detailing conversations between Sioux City's Mayor Bob Scott, City Manager Paul Eckert and other city leaders with a question: Were the city and Mayor Scott really impartial?
Penn says no and claims that may have swayed the IRGC to pick the Hard Rock.
Penn National Gaming used a public records request to get a string of city e-mails - inside Penn says Sioux City leaders were on board with the Hard Rock proposal from the get go.
"We really just wanted to take the opportunity, have taken the opportunity to start to reveal some of the truths that were not revealed during the application process," says Karen Bailey, Spokeswoman for Penn National Gaming.
Bailey says the behind the scenes support for the Hard Rock may have helped sway the IRGC in its decision. In an e-mail exchange, backers of the Hard Rock asked for a city representative to attend a financing meeting with the gaming commission.
Penn says the city did send someone but never offered to do the same for the Warrior or Hollywood proposals.
"The next day or a couple days later, the Hard Rock developers send a thank you letter to Mayor Scott saying hey this is really good and having the city here with us really bodes well for our downtown proposal. So in the eyes of the IRGC it also was a factor that the mayor or the city was seemingly in support of the Hard Rock proposal versus the other three proposals in front of them," says Bailey.
But Brian Ohorilko, the IRGC Administrator says city support was only one of many factors that went into the board's decision.
"It may not have made any difference at all or it may have made it more attractive to one or more commission members but there are a number of criteria and it's important to remember that each of the criteria is required and utilized when the commission members are applying their discretion when selecting their applicants."
Ohorilko went on to say a city leader's support for any one proposal does not violate the application process, therefore Mayor Scott or any Sioux City leaders for that matter did nothing wrong.
Keep in mind, Penn has already sued the Missouri River Historical Development- the non-profit that holds the gaming license for the Argosy and the Hard Rock, and it's taking the gaming commission to court to try and force it to reconsider the Hard Rock decision.
The commission says it'll take up Penn's claim during its regular meeting next month.
It's not clear if Penn intends to get Sioux City leaders into court over this as well. For now, all the Hard Rock plans are still moving ahead.