The Arkansas Racing Commission recently selected a winning bid for a new casino project set to be built in Pope County. There were two proposals submitted to the Arkansas Racing Commission, and there is some controversy surrounding the final selection.
Gulfside Casino Partnership out of Mississippi was awarded the casino license, but there is a chance the decision could be challenged in court. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma was the other group that submitted a bid for the casino license.
There are seven commissioners on the Arkansas Racing Commission, and they narrowly awarded the bid to Gulfside by a count of 4-3. Each of the two bids was scored on a scale of 100 points, and Gulfside racked up 637 total points, which was more than the 572 that was awarded to the Cherokee Nation bid.
Russellville, Ark., is the chosen location for this new project that will be called River Valley Casino. The bid calls for a $254 million investment, which was almost $30 million more than the investment that the Cherokee Nation was willing to make.
The River Valley Casino will have more than 80,000 square feet of gaming space, and there will also be a 500-room hotel that is built at the site. The new casino will have 1,900 slot machines and 90 table games when it is fully operational.
Another key part of the bid from Gulfside was the number of full-time jobs that the new casino would generate. It is estimated that there will be close to 1,700 new jobs with those positions paying out close to $35,000 per year.
Vote Was Extremely Close
Attorneys representing the Cherokee Nation are looking to challenge the decision, especially looking at the vote from Commissioner Butch Rice. Rice awarded the Gulfside proposal with a perfect score of 100, while only giving out 29 points to the Cherokee bid.
Rice has since denied that he voted with any bias, but legal counsel for the Cherokee Nation does not see it that way. The Attorney General urged all commissioners to vote in a fair manner, and Rice has maintained that he did that.
Cherokee Nation legal representatives will be looking for a court to overturn the decision and force an injunction in the process. They believe that the score from Rice influenced the entire process and directly took the bid away from the Cherokee Nation.
Gulfside Casino Partnership is owned by Terry Green and Rick Carter, who are credited with starting the Mississippi riverboat gaming industry. They don’t have any real ties to Arkansas, but they have had success in building casinos in the south.
Casino Industry in Arkansas Continuing to Expand
The voters in Arkansas were tasked with determining whether or not expanded gambling would come to the state. In 2018 voters agreed to adopt a new constitutional amendment that would change the gaming landscape in the state.
Oaklawn and Southland are two race tracks located in the state, but they have both made the transition into casinos. These two locations now offer slot machines in table games and have been the only two locations for gambling in the state.
The newly expanded gambling laws also allowed for Pope and Jefferson Counties to receive one casino license. Pope County has been slow to get its casino project launched, but that isn’t the case in Jefferson County.
The Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma won the bid in Jefferson County and is starting a $350 million casino resort project. The Saracen Casino Resort will feature a 300-room hotel and an 80,000-square-foot casino, along with several other amenities.