Hard Rock Hotel and Casino opens in Sioux City (2)

Sioux City's historic Battery Building has been developed into the hotel section of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. 

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Once associated with trashing hotel rooms, the image of legendary guitarist Jimmy Page now welcomes patrons to Iowa’s newest hotel and casino.

Rock 'n’ roll is the theme of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which opened Friday in Sioux City. If trying your luck at the poker table, watching musicians perform or checking out displays of music memorabilia doesn’t pique your interest, staying in a loft-style hotel room in the historic brick Battery Building might.

In an era when the gaming business isn’t as lucrative as it once was, Iowa’s newest casino is offers a bit more than just gambling and restaurants.

“We didn’t build a casino; we built an entertainment center,” said Todd Moyer, the Hard Rock’s general manager.

The Hard Rock effectively replaces the Argosy Sioux City riverboat casino, which closed Wednesday.

The new gambling house boasts 839 slot machines, 25 table games, three bars, four restaurants and stages for musicians and others.

The casino is new construction, while the hotel has been incorporated into the Battery Building, a former hardware warehouse that was built in 1906 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel has 54 loft-style rooms, including 12 suites. The rooms are decorated with memorabilia and books, and one suite even has records and a record player.

“Our goal was not to cover up the Battery Building, but to embellish it ... bring out that old-world charm,” Moyer said.

Behind Moyer were displays of memorabilia, including a red suit and snakeskin platform boots worn by Tommy Bolin, a Sioux City native and guitarist for the James Gang and Deep Purple. Bolin died of a drug overdose in 1976 and is buried in Sioux City.

Another display shows the jumpsuit David Cassidy wore during a 1973 sellout performance at Wembley Stadium. An accompanying video depicts young women in the audience screaming. Forty years later, Cassidy is little remembered.

“Rock ‘n’ roll fame, it’s ephemeral,” said Warwick Stone, curator of the collection. “It’s here today, and tomorrow it’s blown.”

Other memorabilia on display is more widely recognized. Like the loafers Michael Jackson wore as he performed the moonwalk in the video for “Billy Jean,” or the Union Jack dress Spice Girl Geri Halliwell wore while performing in the 1997 Brit awards.

The casino’s opening follows a protracted legal battle in which the operators of the now-defunct Argosy fought to stay open. The Argosy opened in 2003 and employed about 325 people at its height. That number had dwindled to about 240 by Wednesday. The Hard Rock employs about 500.

Ernie Goss, a Creighton University economist who studies casinos, said the Hard Rock brand will be a bigger draw than the Argosy riverboat. But the novelty will fade with time.

“It’ll bring in some folks who are used to the Hard Rock Cafe in Disney World,” he said. “But that’s only initially. That wears off.”

It also will draw customers from the three Council Bluffs casinos, he said. That, too, will drop off.

The threat of Iowa’s casinos cannibalizing each other is real, he said. Gambling has become less lucrative as more states legalize it. Some casinos in once-successful markets have closed. In Atlantic City, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino will soon shutter.

“What’s going on in Iowa is what is going on nationwide,” Goss said. “The idea that casinos are a cash cow, those days are over.”

Such concerns are resonating with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. In April, it rejected a casino proposal from Cedar Rapids, saying it would take too much revenue from existing casinos.

On the other hand, the commission approved a casino in Jefferson, in Greene County. It opens in about a year.

The Jefferson casino will be Iowa’s 19th state-regulated gambling parlor. Iowa also has three casinos operated by American Indian tribes.

On the gaming floor of the Hard Rock, the pillars are decorated with towering black and white photos of rock stars like Page, the guitarist for Led Zeppelin, a band of legendary excess that caused many a 1970s hotelier to pull out his hair.

Peter Frampton and Janis Joplin, too, will be smiling down on the poker tables and slot machines as the wheels of commerce turn.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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