The Arkansas Racing Commission announced the race for a Pope County casino license is down to two contenders, Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation Business and Mississippi’s Gulfside Casino Partnership. The two applicants will now be able to proceed to the final round of the license race.
The competition for the casino license in Pope County commenced after state voters approved an amendment in November 2018 that paved the way for further gambling expansion at Garland County’s Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, and Crittenden County’s Southland Casino Racing. Amendment 100 also allowed for new gaming venues in the counties of Jefferson and Pope.
While the licensing and approval procedures were relatively fast and seamless in the counties of Jefferson, Crittenden, and Garland, the same cannot be said about Pope County. In the early summer of 2019, the Arkansas Racing Commission rejected the licensing applications of all five casinos that initially applied for the Pope County license.
All Five License Applicants Were Initially Turned Down
Applications were lodged by the Gulfside Casino Partnership, the Tri-Peaks Entertainment Group, the River Ridge Casino Resort, and the Cherokee and Choctaw tribal nations of Oklahoma. All applicants but one were immediately turned down because they lacked letters of recommendation or the required provision by the Quorum Courts of their counties.
The only exception was Gulfside Casino Partnership which had received letters of recommendation from Pope County’s Judge Jim Ed Gibson and then-Mayor Randy Horton. The trouble was the letters were granted after the approval of Amendment 100 and before the two officials left office.
The Arkansas Racing Commission determined that applicants need to have recommendation letters granted by current officeholders and thus, the Gulfside proposal was also turned down. The summer of 2019 saw Cherokee Nation Business receiving the thumbs-up from Pope County’s Quorum Court, which enabled the company to re-enter the casino license race.
The Commission was faced with two decisions yesterday. The first decision had to do with appealing the March ruling of Judge Timothy Fox of Pulaski County that called for considering the Gulfside plan. The second decision involved voting on a ruling that would validate the Cherokee Nation recommendation letter from Pope County’s Judge and the local Quorum Court.
The Commission’s Decision Prevented Further Delays in the Application Process
According to Butch Reeves, Deputy Attorney General of Arkansas, the appeal of Judge Tim Fox’s decision could require up to 18 months. However, the end period for the contract with a third-party casino license applicant is scheduled for June 30. The Commission decided not to appeal Judge Fox’s orders to prevent further delays in the application process.
Both contenders expressed their pleasure of being able to participate in the licensing process’ final round in official statements. Chuck Garrett, Chief Executive Officer of Cherokee Nation Business, commented he was pleased by the Commission’s decision not to appeal the former Judge’s orders.
Mr. Garrett also confirmed the Atkins City Council voted in favor of the Atkins Mayor writing a support letter for Cherokee Nation Business. The latter has also received support from Judge Fox’s successor Judge Ben Cross, four other cities in Pope County, and the local Quorum Court.
Gulfside’s Attorney Lucas Rowan said in an official statement the company was pleased to learn its eligibility for participation in the license race is now recognized. Gulfside remains confident it is the best choice because it would bring US$10 million in annual gaming revenue and create 500 permanent job positions.