Sioux City Casino Challenge

A $120 million Hard Rock casino going up in downtown Sioux City, Iowa, is at the heart of a high-stakes legal challenge by Penn National Gaming Co., which has also drawn the involvement from the economic development division of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. 

A rendering. 

Penn National, which owns the Argosy riverboat casino in Sioux City, filed suit challenging the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s decision last year to award a casino license to the owners of the Hard Rock casino, which is now under construction.

The Winnebago Tribe’s Ho-Chunk Inc., which also bid on the casino, filed requests March 14 to intervene in the Penn National suit, making roughly the same arguments about the process and proceedings that resulted in the award to Hard Rock.

“We generally don’t like lawsuits because they are expensive and messy,” Ho-Chunk President/CEO Lance Morgan told the Sioux City Journal. “However, we spent over $1 million on the IRGC process and, if it was flawed, then at the very least we need to have a seat at the table.”

If the court decides the process of awarding the license was “inappropriate or flawed,” Ho-Chunk argues, the tribe needs “to have a seat at the table.”

And if the court decides neither Hard Rock nor Penn should be awarded the license, the Ho-Chunk-led group that includes the tribe, Sioux City businessman Lew Weinberg and other investors, believes it should be the “logical recipient” of the license.

The Hard Rock casino group consists of developer Sioux City Entertainment and its nonprofit partner, Missouri River Historical Development.

U.S. District Court Judge Eliza Ovrom added SCE and MRHD, as well as Sioux City, to the suit as defendants after vacating a ruling from another district court judge that had temporarily suspended the Hard Rock license.

If Ho-Chunk is granted its petition to intervene, the company would then be able to participate in future court hearings and proceedings in the case, according to the Sioux City Journal.