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Casino License Battle Heating Up in Arkansas

A 2018 amendment gave the state of Arkansas the right to expand its gaming industry throughout the state. Amendment 100 was passed through a vote of the residents of the state that year, and work has been in place to build and open new casinos since that time. Even though the amendment called for an expansion of the current gaming industry, both Pope and Jefferson counties were allowed just one new casino to be built.

Pope County, Ark., has a pair of organizations competing for a casino license, and that competition has gotten intense over the last few weeks.

The two competing organizations in Pope County are GulfSide and Cherokee Nations Businesses. The GulfSide Casino Partnership of Mississippi initially submitted an application in 2019, but it was thrown out because the application didn’t have enough support from local officials.

Cherokee Nations Businesses were able to send in the application earlier this year in hopes of stealing the bid.

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The Cherokees are hoping to build a casino that costs approximately $225 million. The Legends casino would be accompanied by a hotel that has close to 200 rooms. The gaming floor would be approximately 50,000 square feet, and there would also be an event center that totals 15,000 square feet.

GulfSide is looking to build the River Valley Casino Resort if their application gets approved. The cost of the project would be close to $254 million, and everything but the convention center would be much larger than what the Cherokees are currently proposing.

The River Valley Casino Resort would have a hotel that has close to 250 rooms available for guests. The gaming floor would be close to 80,000 square feet if they were to gain approval.  At this time online gambling in Arkansas for casinos hasn’t moved forward.

Money Is The Reason

Both groups know that money will be at the center of this decision, and they have both pitched to county officials how much money their new casino would generate in revenue. Both casinos would have a tax rate of 13 percent, which is what was included in Amendment 100.

GulfSide estimates that they would bring in close to $200 million in total revenue. The tax annual tax revenue would be more than $29 million. The Cherokee Nations Businesses plan estimates that they would bring in over $150 million in annual revenue. $19 million of that would be tax revenue that is paid back to the county and state.

It appears that the GulfSide Casino Partnership of Mississippi has a clear edge in terms of receiving the actual license. Tim Fox, a Pulaski County Circuit Judge, ordered that the Arkansas Racing Commission take another look at the application turned in by the company.

The ruling states that the Commission must take the application and judge it “on its merits” rather than throw it out based on a lack of support from local officials.

GulfSide believes that its application must be accepted because they were the only organization that submitted a bid before the deadline had passed. If that was the case, the Arkansas Gaming Commission would have to award them the license for Pope County.

The Arkansas Gaming Commission could also appeal the ruling and send it to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The Cherokee Nation did not get their application in until the second application process period. Their application does have support from local leaders, but it might not matter based on the ruling from Tim Fox.

Things went much smoother in Jefferson County, where there was only one applicant for that county’s license. The Quapaw Nation won the license, and they are set to open a $350 million casino project later this summer. The Saracen Casino Resort will be located in the Pine Bluff region on Jefferson County.

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