CNB frontrunner for Russellville-area casino

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
11/21/2019 04:30 PM
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – As expected by those associated with the process, no further applications to build a casino in Pope County were received by the Nov. 18 deadline, leaving Cherokee Nation Businesses as the apparent frontrunner to get permission to site a venue in Russellville.

In an election on an ordinance – since repealed – in November 2018, residents voted against siting a casino in Pope County. The task of choosing a casino operator got some added heat on Nov. 12, with the county apparently taking steps to maximize its control over the selection.

Any anticipated casino and resort was expected to be put on acreage near Interstate 40 along Hob Nob Road, but County Judge Ben Cross issued a pair of letters approving two sites for a CNB casino – one at the Hob Nob Road site and another north on Arkansas Highway 27 within the town of Dover, a short distance outside of Russellville’s city limits.

Specific benefits were not allocated to Russellville within a $38 million economic development package developed by CNB for Pope County, and the city has established a separate casino review committee that might advocate for one of the other concerns interested in establishing a venue. Selecting the site in Dover could effectively cut Russellville out of the selection process.

Also on Nov. 12, Pope County approved building permits for the CNB casino, pending state acceptance.

“We thank the Pope County Quorum Court and County Judge Ben Cross for their proactive and diligent efforts to comply with the Constitution and create jobs and opportunities for economic growth through our project,” CNB CEO Chuck Garrett said. “The permits issued … by the Pope County Planning Commission will ensure that construction and operations for Legends Resort and Casino Arkansas commence upon issuance of the casino license. We also thank Judge Cross for his letters of support. They should moot any remaining litigation issues. We have also received an additional letter of support from Dover Mayor Roger Lee.… We will submit an amended application to the Arkansas State Racing Commission that includes both the Hob Nob Road and Dover locations. We are excited about the potential opportunities and look forward to continuing our work with elected officials to determine what is best for the county.”

CNB submitted its application Nov. 15 to the ARC for a casino in Pope County. Garrett told media that the application included Cross’ endorsement.

A civil suit remains active in Pulaski County Circuit Court, filed by Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi against the Arkansas Racing Commission. Gulfside received endorsements from local officials during their last days in office. The ARC denied the application because it had adopted a rule – and the Arkansas Legislature passed a law – requiring any endorsing officials be in office when the commission receives the license application. A hearing is scheduled for Nov 25.

Though the filing period closed Nov. 18, the ARC announced in mid-October that it would wait for the outcomes of lawsuits before considering the applications to site a casino in Pope County.
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