Penn National rejection of MRHD contract sets up showdow - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Penn National rejection of MRHD contract sets up showdown at IRGC meeting

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SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) -

Penn National Gaming says "no dice" to the new contract approved by the non-profit that holds the Argosy Casino's gaming license.

Staring down a Thursday deadline to come up with a gaming contract extension that state regulators approve of, Missouri River Historical Development "doubled down" Monday night, and approved a new, two-and-a-half year deal. Mark Monson, MRHD President, says "The extension provides protections for the employees first and foremost, and for the IRGC, the city of Sioux City and for MRHD."

It gives power over annual contract renewals to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. But, it also removes any mention of exclusivity, which means MRHD could work with any other gaming operator on the Argosy, and a land-based casino.

The ink was barely dry on when officials with Penn National Gaming rejected it. Spokesman Eric Schippers said Penn is "disappointed" by MRHD's continued "aggressive efforts" to replace Penn as operator. Schippers also accused MRHD of trying to modify a contract the two parties agreed to back in July. Not so, says Monson. Mark Monson, MRHD President, says "Clearly, Mr. Schippers, who represents Penn, was confused about MRHD's action."

Monson says it's not a modification of the deal done in July. Rather, it's a new deal that, Monson says, provides protections for the Argosy's 325 employees, the city of Sioux City, and for MRHD.

Mark Monson, MRHD President, says "Mr. Schippers comments, in the wake of Penn's public rejection of an extension at the last IRGC meeting, prove Penn's continued lack of concern for their employees over their profits."

Schippers says those 325 workers are top of Penn's mind. And, it's MRHD's actions that are jeopardizing those jobs.

All of this comes just two days before the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission's next meeting, in Riverside, Iowa, on Thursday. At its July meeting, the IRGC made it clear that the only extension it would approve was a short-term, seven-month extension through March of 2013. Monson said MRHD would agree to the short-term deal if it came to that. But, Penn flatly said "no", last month.

At least one member of the IRGC has said if the two sides don't agree to the short-term deal, the commission could close the Argosy Casino. "At that point it could entail a closing of the facility. And it is solely in their hands," said Jeff Lamberti, IRGC Chairman.

IRGC administrator Brian Ohorilko says if the commission wants to close the Argosy, there are several steps it would take, first. The commission would get advice from counsel... in this case that's an assistant Iowa Attorney General. A hearing would likely follow that meeting. And, ultimately, the "WARN Act" would apply. It mandates 60-days advance notice of the closing of a business, which employs at least 100 people.

The IRGC is already taking applications for Woodbury County's new gaming license. The deadline to apply is November 1st. They'll make a decision in April.

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