In an exhausting casino license process including Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) and Gulfside Casino Partnership, Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on 26 October 2023 to send the casino license case back to the Arkansas Racing Commission to repeat the license application process. As reported by TBP, Pope County Judge Ben Cross has followed the gaming amendment to provide a letter of endorsement for Cherokee Nation Businesses in the process.
The same source reports that the endorsement letter may represent an advantage for CNB when competing for the license before the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC). The decision was split as the Arkansan Supreme Court initially affirmed the ruling of the Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox that said the Commission’s approval of the CNB’s casino license in Pope County was ”unconstitutional.” The Circuit Court’s ruling came after the Gulfside Casino Partnership had appealed the ARC’s decision to award the Pope County license to the CNB’s Legends Resort and Casino company.
Judge Cross reportedly stated: “Upon learning the conclusions of the split decision of the Arkansas Supreme Court regarding the casino litigation affecting Pope County, I issued an updated exclusive letter of support as required by Amendment 100 to Cherokee Nation Businesses in the name of Cherokee Nation Entertainment, with the technical issues identified by the Court resolved. The letter was submitted Thursday, October 26, 2023 to the Arkansas Racing Commission as defined by statute, and I hope will expedite the application process as defined by the Commission’s rules. It is my sincere hope the Commission views this as a measure of quick resolve and finalizes what has been an exhausting process to the citizens of Pope County.”
As TBP reports, Amendment 100 was approved by voters in 2018 to anticipate that license applicants need a letter of support from Russellville Mayor Fred Teague for the venues planned inside the city limits, as well as a letter of support from Pope County Judge Ben Cross or, alternatively, the Pope County Quorum Court.
Honored by Support:
Commenting on the judge’s support, CNB CEO Chuck Garrett reportedly stated: “We are honored to have the express and exclusive support of Pope County Judge Ben Cross. We will continue to follow the lead of the Arkansas Racing Commission and the Arkansas Attorney General’s office as they determine the next step in fulfilling Amendment 100. Our full commitment remains to build the first-class Legends Resort & Casino in Russellville and bring the jobs and economic growth Pope County and the state deserve.”
Casey Castleberry, attorney for the Gulfside Casino Partnership, reportedly stated: “When given the opportunity, we will prove to members of the Quorum Court why Gulfside’s superior proposal is a better way to win for Russellville, Pope County and the entire state, just as we did in 2020 in our head-to-head presentation to the Arkansas Racing Commission.”
Competitive Casino Proposals:
According to the source, the Cherokee Nation casino proposal would be a $225 million development to include 50,000 square feet of gaming space including 1,200 slot machines and 32 table games, a retail sports betting facility, and a luxury 200-room hotel with comprehensive high-end leisure, entertainment, and conference facilities spread over 15,000 square feet to host 1,000 people. The amenities would also include an outdoor water park and concert venue.
The competitor Gulfside has estimated its development at $254 million to feature 500 hotel rooms, 80,000 square feet of gaming floor, as well as dining and outdoor entertainment options. The casino would reportedly secure 1,500 jobs anticipating a $60.5 million annual handle. The source hasn’t provided the recruitment and payroll figures for the property planned by CNB but these seem similar enough for the Supreme Court to send the process back to the beginning. Actually, these may be even more favorable for the state as judge Cross supported the CNB’s proposal with the letter of endorsement.