Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation is hoping to soon begin construction on its proposed $225 million Arkansas casino resort in Pope County.
Legends Resort & Casino was presented to state and local Pope County officials in 2019. The project targeting Russellville comes from the tribe’s Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) gaming and hospitality unit.
Pope County Judge Ben Cross has lent his support to the casino undertaking. Obtaining an endorsement from the current county judge is the first critical step in the licensing process dictated under the state’s 2018 legalization of commercial gambling in four counties.
The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled recently that another Pope County casino plan submitted by an entity called Gulfside Casino Partnership was invalid. That’s because it came with the support of former Pope County Judge Ed Gibson. With the state’s highest court ruling in its favor, CNB wants to end the legal chaos surrounding the county’s lone gaming allocation and move forward with construction.
“The Arkansas Supreme Court’s mandate affirms Legends Resort and Casino as the sole qualified applicant for the Pope County casino license,” CNB attorney Dustin McDaniel said in a statement.
However, the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) plans to hold a special meeting tomorrow, November 12, to discuss the matter. McDaniel opined that ARC doesn’t need to further consider the two casino bids, as the Supreme Court has already settled the matter.
Another Lawsuit Threatened
The Arkansas Racing Commission is tasked with issuing casino licenses and governing their operations. But McDaniel says the state agency has no legal authority to block the CNB casino. The Supreme Court order on the tedious controversy said ARC Director Smokey Campbell is to issue the Pope County casino license to the Cherokee Nation.
If ARC interferes, McDaniel has said CNB will have no other option than to file legal action. Such a move would request that a court order the Racing Commission to step aside and give the tribal company the gaming permit.
We are in discussions with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office to ensure Friday’s meeting of the Commission is purely informational and that the Commission clears the way for staff to perform its administrative duties,” McDaniel stated.
Pope County residents rejected the 2018 ballot referendum that passed statewide. Regardless of the local vote, the amendment altered the Arkansas Constitution to allow a casino in the county.
The dispute of the license issuance has led to the Pope County Quorum Court last week passing a symbolic resolution that expresses the local government’s opposition to any casino being allowed to move forward. The local officials have called on Judge Cross to rescind his letter of support for the CNB casino. But Cross says the economic benefits of the property are worth the gamble.
CNB has sweetened the deal by agreeing to invest $38.8 million into the county. The contributions would be directed to county and municipality governments, community organizations, first responders, scholarship funds, and arts programs.
The tribe says Legends would directly employ 1,000 people upon opening, generate about $5 million annually in county taxes, and create a 10-year economic impact north of $3 billion.
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