Arkansas Racing Commission will wait out litigation before assessing Cherokee Nation casino proposal
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Efforts by Cherokee Nation Businesses to open a resort and casino in Pope County, Ark., have hit another speed bump.
On March 4, the Arkansas Racing Commission again stated its intention to let legal cases be resolved before considering the CNB application to open the Legends Resort and Casino in Russellville. The ARC had gathered to debate whether CN could be allowed to submit its application retroactively to include letters of support from Pope County officials.
Action was unanimously tabled by the ARC until a decision in the lawsuit brought by Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi.
ARC chair Alex Lieblong said if the case is not resolved quickly, the commission may need to reassess the CNB submission.
Gulfside Casino Partnership filed its lawsuit last August after all applicants, including the Cherokee Nation, had their license applications rejected.
The documents filed by GCP on Feb. 4 include an email written by Bryon Freeland, attorney for the Arkansas Racing Commission, stating a rule change that nullified GCP’s application was put in place after consultation with the office of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Gulfside received endorsements from local officials during their last days in office. The ARC denied the application because it had adopted the rule change – and the Arkansas Legislature passed a law – requiring any endorsing officials be in office when the commission receives the license application. The GCP suit claims the endorsements are valid and its application should have been considered by the ARC because the new rule is unconstitutional.
The battle over placing a casino in Pope County began in November 2018 when Arkansas voters approved an expansion of gambling with Amendment 100 to the state constitution.
There is some ambiguity in Amendment 100 about when endorsements were to be submitted, which the ARC and state legislature attempted to clarify.
However, Gulfside is arguing that its submission was summarily and illegally rejected despite meeting all requisites. A hearing is slated March 30 in Pulaski County, Ark., before Circuit Judge Tim Fox.
During its March 4 meeting, ARC members acknowledged that a decision against either party was likely to result in an appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court, resulting in a further delay before a decision is made.
Citizens for a Better Pope County, which opposes opening a casino, successfully lobbied for a temporary restraining order by arguing the ARC had already broken its rules by allowing a second permit application period.
However, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen said his order did not prohibit the ARC from taking applications under the “good cause” clause of the commission’s casino rules.
The rule reads: "Applications for a casino license will be accepted by the Commission for a period of thirty (30) days, beginning on the date established by the Commission and published as a legal notice by the Commission. No Applications will be accepted after the thirty (30) day period, except for good cause shown."
Chuck Garrett, CNB chief executive officer, asked the ARC on Jan. 15 to evaluate the latest CNB proposal under an exemption of good cause, stating in a letter that good cause existed because Pope County officials did not support any casino groups until after the initial submission phase concluded.
“We hope that the Commission schedules another meeting in the near future to accept our application after it completes its review of all relevant information and consideration of the legal counsel provided by the AG’s office,” Garrett said in a March 4 statement. “We remain confident that we will ultimately be issued the license as the only applicant to have received the required support from current County officials in compliance with Amendment 100, Arkansas law, and the Racing Commission’s Casino Rules.”