Racing Commission awards Pope County casino to Gulfside partnership, but appeal coming

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 787 views 

A rendition of Gulfside's proposed $254 million casino.

The Arkansas Racing Commission on Thursday (June 18) awarded a coveted license to Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership for a $254 million casino resort in Pope County, but expect more litigation to be filed before anyone rolls the dice on a groundbreaking.

Earlier this year, the commission had narrowed its choices to a casino operated by Gulfside and another proposal led by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

In ranking the proposals, commissioners graded Gulfside’s proposal with a higher score than the Cherokee Nation plan, which had secured the backing of the Pope County Quorum Court. The Cherokee Nation has 15 days to appeal the decision, which they indicated would happen.

Terry Green, co-owner of Gulfside Casino Partnership, released the following statement after the vote.

“We are proud to receive the Racing Commission’s support to build our first-class River Valley Casino Resort — an entertainment destination and economic engine for Pope County and Arkansas,” Green said.

Former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has worked on behalf of the Cherokee Nation application and serves as legal counsel to the group. He alleged that Commissioner Butch Rice unfairly scored the Cherokee proposal more than 70 points lower than the Gulfside bid.

McDaniel issued a statement after the Arkansas Racing Commission decision suggesting that appeals will be forthcoming.

“On Tuesday, I submitted a letter to the Attorney General’s office expressing my concern that an obviously biased Commissioner could potentially overturn the will of the rest of the Commission due to the proposed scoring system. Despite the AG’s office expressly warning Commissioners not to engage in arbitrary, capricious or biased scoring, Commissioner [Butch] Rice in fact single-handedly overturned the score given by the rest of the Commission. We anticipate both an administrative appeal and a request for injunctive relief from a court. This is a uniquely significant state decision, and such an egregious act of bad faith should not be allowed to control it,” McDaniel said.

Gulfside sued in March 2020 to be reconsidered as a valid proposal after the Racing Commission originally ruled that its proposal did not meet all of the requirements for consideration. At issue was the endorsement of the former mayor of Russellville and former Pope County Judge, both of whom signed letters of consent before they left office at the end of 2018.

In August 2019, the Pope County Quorum Court endorsed the $225 million Cherokee Nation project.

Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment in November 2018 authorizing the issuance of four casino gaming licenses in Crittenden, Garland, Pope and Jefferson counties. Less than two weeks after Arkansas voters approved the gambling initiative, Oaklawn Racing and Gaming announced plans for a $100 million-plus project that will include a new high-rise hotel, multi-purpose event center, a larger gaming area and extra on-site parking.

Privately-held Delaware North is building a new 240,000 square foot casino complex and a 20-story, 300-room hotel in the Crittenden County bedroom community across the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tenn. It is expected to open in early 2021.

The Quapaw Nation was the only applicant for a casino to be located in Jefferson County. Its $350 million complex is under construction.