Arkansas officials advance Cherokee Nation proposal, reject Gulfside’s Pope County casino application

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 76 views 

The Arkansas Racing Commission on Wednesday (June 12) did not accept a Pope County casino license application from Gulfside Casino Partnership, which leaves only the Cherokee Nation application for consideration at the commission’s June 27 meeting.

Gulfside’s application was not approved because it failed to have a letter of support from officials in Pope County, according to Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, the parent agency of the commission. Gulfside and Cherokee each paid $250,000 to submit an application to the commission.

The Pope County Quorum Court on June 6 voted against a letter of support for a $405 million casino plan presented by the Gulfside Casino Partnership.

Amendment 100 was approved in 2018 by Arkansas voters. It established The Arkansas Casino Gaming Amendment, which requires the Racing Commission to issue licenses to Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs, Southland Racing Corporation in West Memphis, and to entities in Pope County and Jefferson County. Casinos in three counties are operational: Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs, Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis and Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff.

Gulfside was initially awarded the Pope County license, but lost the license in a legal dispute with Cherokee Nation. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in October 2021 that Gulfside did not have a required official letter from an elected official during the active part of the application process, while Cherokee Nation did. Gulfside had relied on a letter from the previous county judge, who was no longer in office when the application was submitted.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Jan. 11 it would not rehear a lower court decision that blocked granting of a casino license in Pope County to CNB. The rehearing denial returned the license process back to the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC). The application deadline for a Pope County casino is June 11.

CHEROKEE, GULFSIDE PLANS

Cherokee Nation Entertainment presented a plan that includes a 50,000-square-foot casino with 1,200 slot machines, 32 table games, a poker room and sportsbook, a 200-room hotel with a resort pool and luxury spa, numerous dining options ranging from grab-and-go to a sit-down steakhouse, and a multipurpose space to accommodate meetings, conferences, concerts and special events.

The development site is situated northeast of Russellville on land located just north of Interstate 40 between the Weir Road exit to the west and Bradley Cove Road exit to the east.

Gulfside presented a plan that includes a $65 million payment to Pope County with a $2 million annual commitment to the county for economic development purposes. The Gulfside proposal would also provide economic development funds for Russellville, the county seat of Pope County, and other county towns.

Gulfside’s casino would include 300 hotels rooms, convention center space with meeting rooms, a steakhouse restaurant, a casino lounge, a 24-hour cafe, an outdoor amphitheater, a spa and fitness center, and a coffee and pastry shop. Gulfside estimates that the 20-acre project will create 1,695 direct jobs, a projected $60.5 million annual payroll for the region, and result in an estimated $29.5 million in annual tax revenue.