DES MOINES — A Polk County judge said he will decide “soon” whether construction on the Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City can continue.
Judge Robert Hanson gave attorneys for Penn National Gaming and the Iowa Attorney General’s office the timeline at the end of a 90-minute afternoon hearing in a Polk County courtroom crowded two benches deep with attorneys.
Although the only lawyers who said anything during the hearing were Penn’s Mark Weinhardt and Assistant Attorney General John Lundquist, the others, including representatives of the Hard Rock’s Sioux City Entertainment, scribbled on legal pads and passed notes.
Penn wants Hanson to stop construction on the $128.5 million Hard Rock Casino, which broke ground on Aug. 16, until other lawsuits involving Penn — which is the parent company of the Argosy Sioux City riverboat — and the supporters of the Hard Rock are resolved.
Calling the continued work on the new building a “statutory violation, a due process violation and the result of a rigged bidding process,” Weinhardt said that continuing to build the Hard Rock is “illogic of which would be clear to a grade-schooler.”
If the casino is built, Weinhardt said, the Hard Rock backers would seek to use that to their advantage as the parties continue their legal wrangling over the validity of the Hard Rock’s license.
“They would make as big a deal about their new, shiny casino as they could,” Weinhardt said. “I guarantee you they’d show you pictures of it and a video tour, the argument being they were too far along to stop now.”
Lundquist argued the Penn petition to Hanson was premature because Penn hasn’t exhausted its other avenues of appeal, specifically an appeal to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission that is supposed to be heard at the commission’s Nov. 21 meeting.
He accused Weinhardt of making “warmed-over arguments” that already had been brought up in other court proceedings. He said whether the Hard Rock was built or not, it wouldn’t affect the judge’s decision on the underlying legal questions in those other suits.
“They don’t trust you to make a decision,” Lundquist told Hanson.
Weihardt responded it wasn’t about trust.
“It’s not that we don’t trust anybody,” he said. “It’s that we know the strategy good advocates would use.”