Pope County casino license awarded to Cherokee Nation Entertainment

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 784 views 

Here we go again. The Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) on Thursday (June 27) issued the casino license in Pope County to Cherokee Nation Entertainment. The action follows several legal moves between competing casino operators that have stalled casino construction.

Gulfside Casino Partnership 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).

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 325-acre 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.

According to Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, the ARC parent agency, Cherokee Nation CEO Chuck Garrett said the company will begin immediately to seek the necessary permits for construction. No date has been set for construction to begin, but Garrett said building the facility will take about 18 months.

“It is an honor to have been issued the Pope County casino gaming license by the Arkansas Racing Commission,” Garrett said in a statement sent to Talk Business & Politics. “Holding the state’s fourth and final license is a responsibility we take very seriously, and we are excited for Legends Resort & Casino Arkansas to become a reality. For more than five years, we have been laying the groundwork for this economic development project and embracing local community input. With the license in hand, we are prepared to finalize the remaining permitting and administrative processes so we can commence construction.”

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.

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.

Talk Business & Politics has sought comment from Gulfside for this story and will update when/if comment is received.