Court Ruling Leads to Uncertainty in Pope County Casino License Situation

The ongoing dispute over the casino license in Pope County, Arkansas, continues to unfold with legal battles and conflicting proposals. The Arkansas Supreme Court recently upheld a lower judge’s ruling that the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) wrongly awarded the casino license to Cherokee Nation Businesses and Legends Hospitality.

The state’s high court ruled that ARC made an error in approving the Cherokee/Legends bid, as it violated Amendment 100, which stipulated that bids must come from sole entities, not a consortium. There were also concerns about Legends’ lack of experience in developing, owning, or operating a casino, which was a requirement outlined in Amendment 100.

ARC asked both sides, Cherokee/Legends and Gulfside Casino Partnership, to submit comments on how the state should proceed in further considerations of the Pope County casino license. The legal representatives of the Cherokees and Legends have requested the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision, expressing hopes for further clarification on the steps required to be taken next.

The court’s ruling has left open the possibility for an administrative fix, with the Cherokees and Legends potentially resubmitting their bid as a single entity. On the other hand, attorneys representing Gulfside believe ARC should conduct a second bidding round.

The 2018 referendum requirement for bids to be accompanied by a letter of support from the county judge or the county quorum court has also been a source of contention. The Cherokee/Legends plan has the support of Pope County Judge Ben Cross, while the Gulfside plan’s bid was submitted with a letter of support from Ed Gibson, who issued his backing days before leaving the Pope County judge seat in December 2018.

The Cherokees successfully argued in another case that the language in Amendment 100 referring to the “county judge” and “county quorum court” pertains to the current judge or court, not a former or retired county judge.

Gulfside attorneys believe that ARC resetting and conducting a second bidding round would allow all potential casino applicants to seek local support from Pope County officials and submit applications to be considered on their merits by the Racing Commission. The ongoing legal battle has further complicated the process of awarding the casino license in Pope County, Arkansas.