On October 21st, the Supreme Court of Arkansas issued a ruling on the Pope County casino project lawsuit. The Court ruled against Gulfside Casino Partnership and in favor of the Cherokee Nation Businesses in a long-running controversy that escalated to a series of regulatory and legal challenges faced by the Pope County casino project.
The ruling of the high court centered on if Gulfside Casino Partnership was a legal participant in the casino operating license application process. In the terms of its ruling, the court explained that until the state’s gambling regulatory body – the Arkansas Racing Commission – initiated the casino license application process, no applicants could have been constituted.
As noted by the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling, an entity is not considered a casino applicant until the beginning of the application process, which, in this case, happened when the state’s gambling watchdog opened the application window in May 2019.
Then, once an entity was constituted as a casino applicant, it was supposed to get a letter of support from the county judge. As the high court’s notice reads, the interpretation of the Amendment’s wording indicates the current county judge, and not a former or retired one. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that, under the language of Amendment 100, “the county judge” meant in the wording indicates the county judge in office at the time when a participant in the selection process submitted its application to the regulator.
Gulfside Casino Partnership has urged the Supreme Court to reach an opposite conclusion and claimed that a temporal requirement that was not included in Amendment 100 should have been added by the Court.
Gulfside Casino Partnership Was Not in Line with the Application Procedure
The lawsuit challenged the actions taken soon after local voters gave the green light to the Arkansas Casino Gaming Amendment, under which the state’s Racing Commission was required to award operating licenses to entities in Jefferson County and Pope County, as well as to West Memphis-based Southland Racing Corporation, and Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs.
Gulfside Casino Partnership insisted that it had been constituted as a casino license applicant within the application window was opened by the local gambling regulator. However, the group’s letter of endorsement was granted by the former County Judge Ed Gibson before he left office in December 2018. As mentioned above, the process of applications was not started by the Arkansas Racing Commission until May 2019. So, according to the interpretation given by the Arkansas Supreme Court to the wording of Amendment 100, the letter in which Mr. Gibson gave his support for Gulfside Casino Partnership could not constitute the group as a valid applicant in the casino application process.
On the other hand, Cherokee Nation Businesses, which has eventually been selected by the company to establish a casino venue in Pope County, received the support of the current County Judge Ben Cross during the application process, which constituted the operator as a legal applicant in the process.
The legal representative for Cherokee Nation Businesses, Dustin McDaniel, praised the Supreme Court of the state for the ruling, saying it was exciting and greatly appreciated. He further noted that the tribal gambling operator was ready to put an end to the legal action and start the construction works of the planned casino. Mr. McDaniel, who is also a former Arkansas Attorney General, said that the operating license of the company is expected to be issued as soon as the mandate is effective.
Once Cherokee Nation Businesses manages to clear the last legal hurdles, it is set to deliver $38.8 million as part of its Economic Development Agreement with Pope County and start the construction works.