LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The process of bringing a casino to Pope County has gone on for years, and just when you thought the hand would be dealt, the dealer continues to shuffle the deck.
On Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to vacate the latest license issued to two companies looking to open a casino.
The court said the license that was issued to Cherokee Nation Businesses and Legends Resort and Casino was in violation of Amendment 100. The two are partners in this project.
“We are disappointed by today’s ruling however we are very committed in pursuing the license,” Cherokee CEO Chuck Garrett said.
“Cherokee Nation 30 years old experience in the gaming and hospitality business,” Garrett said.
Concerning the ownership of 11 casinos, he said “We certainly know what we are doing.”
However, two violations were found in the application from Cherokee and Legends.
One violation was that there were two entities listed and the Supreme Court said you can only issue the license to one applicant.
“This has been the most challenging license we’ve pursued,” Garrett said.
The second violation was that Legends does not have any experience with casino gaming, which is a requirement.
“It has been the local folks that have been negatively impacted, and Arkansans have also been wrongfully deprived of tax revenue,” Garrett said.
“We’re really happy today the Supreme Court saw it our way,” Gulfside Casino Partnership representative Casey Castleberry said.
Gulfside filed the initial motion against Cherokee and Legends as they too want to bring the casino to Pope County.
“That’s Gulfside’s ultimate objective to build a resort in Pope County that draws people from all over the country,” Castleberry said.
Gulfside was close to that goal in 2020 when they were granted initially the Pope County license, but it was pulled in 2021.
“That was not a good day, but we are happy to be here today with a ruling in our favor,” Castleberry stated.
Amendment 100 requires applicants to have either a support letter from the county judge of Pope County or a resolution letter of support from the quorum court.
Castleberry said Gulfside’s letter was from a county judge whose term had already ended and not the one in office.
“Our letter of support came from the county judge whose term ended at the end of 2018. The circuit court held that was good enough, but the supreme court said no it’s got to be from the county judge in office when you submit your application which was in May of 2019.” Castleberry said.
So now, both sides start from the beginning by submitting a new application with hopes of hitting the jackpot as the one to build Arkansas’ newest casino.
Garett adds that he thinks Cherokee will “be the only qualified applicants submitting an application.”
“Our proposal brings more jobs, it brings more tax revenue, it brings more long-term investment to the community,” Castleberry said. “We look forward to getting back in front of the racing commission with our proposal.”
The Department of Finance and Administration said they will be working with the Arkansas Racing Commission to open a new application window in a timely manner.