The Cherokee Nation Businesses(CNB) has been planning to develop a $300 million Legends Resort & Casino in Russellville for a long period. A Pope County Quorum Court gave it hope to realize its dream last week. CNB is the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s subsidiary.
Arkansas held a gaming vote in 2018 for additional brick-and-mortar casinos. The Arkansas Racing Commission(ARC) allowed the construction of racinos in Oaklawn, Southland, Garland and Crittenden. They would be full-scale casinos that offer sports gambling, table games, and slot machines.
The 2018 ballot’s analysis revealed that the ARC should only consider gaming bids that het a letter of support from the quorum court of the county’s sitting judge. The new development made Pope County casino opportunities' review tricky.
CNB works as the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s commercial economic organ. Its gaming and hospitality division indicates that some CNB subsidiaries have channeled funds to the federal government’s real estate and infrastructure projects.
The Cherokee Nation presented its Legends Resort & Casino bid accompanying it with Pope County Judge Ben Cross’ letter of support. However, Gulfside Casino Partnership also submitted a $254 million River Valley Casino Resort bid in Russellville.
It attached a letter of support from Pope County’s former Judge Ed Gibson. He supported the Mississippi riverboat operator’s bid shortly before retiring in December 2018.
Are There Ongoing Cases?
An ARC commissioner was involved in a 2020 scandal after they unfairly graded the two casino bids. The commission granted Gulfside concession after liaising with then-state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. However, the Cherokee Nation filed an appeal claiming that ARC should have rejected Gulfside’s bid because it lacked the county quorum court’s or a sitting Pope County judge’s support.
The Native tribe sued the ARC. Still, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that ARC erroneously picked Gulfside’s bid despite lacking the county court’s support. This prompted ARC to declare the Cherokee Nation as the casino license winner hence causing more litigation.
Its move didn't sit well with Gulfside as its attorneys stated that the Cherokee Nation’s bid was invalid since the 2018 ballot required the county to issue gaming licenses to single companies and not partnerships such as that of Legends Resort & Casino, LLC and the Native tribe.
The attorneys were concerned about the referendum language saying that the ARC should only consider operators with gaming experience. Nevertheless, the Arkansas Supreme Court made a ruling in October favoring Gulfside.
The justices stated that ARC illegally approved the CNB gaming project as it constituted two entities, yet Legends Resort & Casino, LLC didn't have prior gaming experience. CNB fully owns and operates it.
Pope County’s Gaming Interest
The county wants to reap from gaming like Arkanasas’ three other counties with commercial casinos. The Pope County Quorum Court supported the CNB plan in a 7-6 vote. Cross’ support makes it difficult for Gulfside’s proposal to pass.