Arkansas lawmaker objects to racing commission’s Gulfside pick
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Cherokee Nation Businesses has received little good news recently in its attempt to gain a license to open a casino and resort in Pope County, and CEO Chuck Garrett has told the Tribal Council that CNB is considering its next moves.
In September, an Arkansas House of Representatives lawmaker who represents part of Pope County wrote a letter, dated Sept. 18 and addressed to Alex Lieblong of the Arkansas Racing Commission, expressing his disagreement with the ARC’s decision to award the license to Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi.
Rep. Stan Berry, R-Russellville, has asked the ARC to preserve the minutes and recordings of all its discussions concerning the Pope County casino, and suggested that Gulfside’s endorsements from local officials days before they left office did not have the validity of those obtained by CNB from current holders of local offices.
“While there definitely is a division of opinion in the community on having any casino in Pope County, it is generally agreed that a critical and objective review of the applications and presentations before the commission should have produced a different outcome,” Berry wrote. “Furthermore, to secure a taxpayer-funded recommendation from a third-party independent evaluator for $150,000.00 and not allow for any Commission discussion on the merits of their recommendation prior to your final decision is appalling. As state representative, representing residents of Pope County, this is beyond frustrating.”
Berry did not express specific personal support for CNB in his letter, but wrote he had “an ear” for his constituents’ opinions – claiming they disagreed with the ARC and that the decision would have an impact for decades.
“I remain hopeful, as my neighbors, friends and constituents do, that you will revisit this once again and choose the partnership Pope County citizens deserve,” he wrote.
Pointing to act passed by the Arkansas Legislature requiring that current Pope County officials provide any casino endorsements, Berry wrote that he believed “this law will ultimately be proven legal and constitutional by the (Arkansas) Supreme Court.” However, Act 371 of 2019 was ruled unconstitutional by a county quorum court, and the Arkansas Supreme Court so far has refused to hear a pertinent case.
“Since I believe your decision will result in continued public scrutiny, legislative oversight and litigation for months if not years to come, I respectfully request that you, as an Arkansas Racing commissioner, direct the custodian of records for the Arkansas Racing Commission to preserve all accounts, proceedings, files, and records whether public or otherwise regarding the award of the Pope County casino license to Gulfside Casino Partnership,” Berry wrote.
In his letter, Berry referred to the recommendations of Jim Fox, owner of Fox and Fox Consulting of Phoenix. CNB and Gulfside’s applications were assessed through numerical scoring. Fox’s recommendation was initially expected by June 30, but delayed.
His report was not binding, but the ARC paid Fox’s firm $150,000 to score the applications, with the CNB subsidiary Legends Resort & Casino LLC receiving the recommendation. Fox pointed to CNB’s intent to build a $225 million casino within two years with no outside financial assistance.
The ARC, in a 3-2 vote on July 31, refused the CNB appeal of the commission’s decision to select Gulfside.
Speaking during the Executive & Finance Committee meeting on Aug. 27, Garrett said he made a requested visit on Aug. 25 to give an “update” to the Pope County Quorum Court.
“The racing commission hired an expert consultant to advise them and provide some guidance in their selection,” Garrett said. “Ironically, that consultant found that Cherokee Nation Businesses was the preferred applicant in each of the four criteria set out by the racing commission. Unfortunately for reasons that are not obvious, the commission did not take the expert’s opinion as part of their decision.”Click here to view
Rep. Stan Berry letter.