Arkansas Seeking New Pope County Casino License Applications

November 1, 2023
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The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a lower court ruling that said Cherokee Nation Businesses was not a qualified applicant when granted a casino license in Pope County has reopened the application process for a second time for the state’s fourth casino license.
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The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a lower court ruling that said Cherokee Nation Businesses was not a qualified applicant when granted a casino license in Pope County has reopened the application process for a second time for the state’s fourth casino license.

On Thursday (October 26), the state Supreme Court’s decision voided the gaming license, sending the licensing process back to the Arkansas Racing Commission, a division within the state's Department of Finance and Administration.

Scott Hardin, a spokesman with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, said that although all related details have yet to be determined, gaming regulators will launch a new application period as a result of last week’s ruling.

In an 11-page ruling written by Associate Justice Cody Hiland, the court found that the state’s gaming regulator acted beyond its legal authority under Amendment 100, which legalized casinos in Hot Springs, West Memphis, Pine Bluff and Pope County.

“We [at the Department of Finance and Administration] are working closely with the commission to determine next steps,” Hardin said in an email Tuesday (October 31) to Vixio GamblingCompliance.

“The commission has not yet scheduled a meeting to address this issue,” he added.  “Commissioners will determine the timeline, which could include a November or December launch."

Hardin stressed that regulators are committed to completing the process in a timely manner. 

Voters in Arkansas approved Amendment 100 to the Arkansas State Constitution on November 5, 2018 to expand gaming in the state. Currently, Saracen Casino is operational in Pine Bluff, as well as expanded gaming operations at Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Gaming & Racing in West Memphis.

“While three of the four casinos authorized by Amendment 100 are in full operation, the Pope County license has been the source of litigation throughout the past few years,” Hardin acknowledged.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Pope County Judge Ben Cross sent an updated letter of support for Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation Businesses to be awarded the Pope County casino license. 

Cross said in his one-page letter to the commission that he submitted “this letter to express my exclusive support” as required by Amendment 100, Arkansas Casino Gaming Rule 2.13 and Act 371 of 2019.

“I have met with representatives of CNE and know they possess the qualifications, experience and commitment to community support to successfully operate a casino in Pope County,” Cross wrote in his letter.

The Pope County Quorum Court was expected to consider a resolution Thursday (November 2) not to support any casino group. Cross told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock that officials would rather not support any group than argue again over a casino project.

Gulfside Casino Partnership, a competing company, filed the lawsuit challenging Cherokee’s license.

Gulfside, which operates the Island View Casino Resort in Gulfport, Mississippi, had been issued a license by the racing commission but that license was voided after the state Supreme Court ruled that it needed to be endorsed by current local officials.

A former Pope County judge had endorsed Gulfside’s application. Messages left with Gulfside on Tuesday seeking comment were not returned.

Amendment 100 requires operators bidding to develop a casino in Pope County to have the backing of local officials.

The state racing commission resolved in early 2019 that those endorsements can come only from officials in office at the time the casino application is submitted. The Arkansas legislature also passed Act 371, which became law in March 2019, requiring the same thing.

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