To Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott, a proposed Hard Rock Casino has the potential to rejuvenate his city's downtown and draw a diverse crowd of all ages from miles away.
“We think it's going to be really big. It's a name that is not only (nationally) known, it's a worldwide name,” Scott said. “So we think it has the potential for a lot of development around it.”
A nonprofit group that holds the casino license in Sioux City has agreed to back a proposal from a Las Vegas company to develop a $100 million Hard Rock-themed casino and entertainment center.
It's the hope of city officials that such a project would become part of a downtown cultural and entertainment hub.
It's a roll of the dice as to how a new Sioux City casino would affect business at the three Council Bluffs casinos 95 miles south.
Mark Monson, president of the nonprofit organization Missouri River Historical Development doesn't believe the Sioux City casino would have much impact on the Council Bluffs casinos.
“We'll get some of those people up here once or twice,” Monson said. “The people who visit the casinos on a regular basis do not want to spend a lot of time getting there and back.”
The Hard Rock brand may attract people who aren't casino regulars, however, said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“It's like any other business. If you have another business that opens up and does the same thing, it's competition,” he said. “But competition is the name of the game.”
The Hard Rock Casino Sioux City would be developed by Sioux City Entertainment, a subsidiary of Warner Gaming, which owns the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and other properties.
The deal depends on Missouri River Historical Development and Sioux City Entertainment securing a new gambling license. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission is expected to award only one license for Woodbury County, where Sioux City is located at a point where Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota meet. Iowa law requires casino developers to pair with qualified nonprofits.
If Sioux City Entertainment is awarded the license, construction could begin by next summer, said Bill Warner, president of Warner Gaming. He said the casino could open as soon as the summer of 2014.
Others may apply for the license, as well, though none had as of Thursday, said Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. Typically they “come in at the last moment,” he said. The deadline to apply is Nov. 1.
Ho-Chunk Inc., the development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, has said it is interested in developing a casino in Sioux City. The tribe operates WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa, but Ho-Chunk is not involved in running that casino. The company and the tribe did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
The proposed Hard Rock casino would incorporate the Romanesque Revival-style Battery Building, designed by a New York architectural firm and built in 1906, along Wesley Parkway, on the west side of downtown.
“We like it because they are going to refurbish a landmark building. They have done their homework on the history and culture of the community,” Monson said. “It's going to give downtown Sioux City a real bump in terms of development.”
The proposed Hard Rock casino would have more than 30,000 square feet of gambling space.
By comparison, the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs, which underwent an $87 million expansion in 2006, has 68,000 square feet of gambling space, according to the gambling commission. The Bluffs' two other casinos are comparable to the proposed Hard Rock in size.
Earlier this year, the gambling commission decided to replace the Argosy Casino riverboat, which is docked on the Missouri River in Sioux City, with a land-based casino. The commission put Woodbury County's license up for bid after months of failed talks on a new long-term deal between Argosy's owner, Penn National Gaming Inc., and the Sioux City nonprofit group.
The group considered proposals from other developers, including Penn National and Ho-Chunk, before endorsing the Hard Rock proposal.
Penn has offered to invest up to $100 million in such a casino. Last month it filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the nonprofit. Penn also is seeking a court order to prevent the nonprofit from filing a joint application with another operator.
“We are surprised at the recent announcement by (the nonprofit) of their partnership with Hard Rock, given that we presented a new proposal to the ... board on Sept. 27, yet never received a response,” Karen Bailey, Penn's director of public affairs, said in a statement late Wednesday.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.
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