CNB awaits Arkansas casino court ruling postponed by COVID-19
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Plans to build a resort and casino in Pope County appear headed for another delay for Cherokee Nation Businesses, as a March 30 hearing involving a lawsuit by a competing gaming interest was cancelled.
The March 30 hearing in the case of Gulfside Casino Partnership v. Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, and Arkansas Gaming Commission was cancelled pursuant to an order from the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The docket did not specify when or whether the hearing will be rescheduled, and does not give a reason for the cancellation. However, Arkansas courthouses are operating with limited personnel and many courtrooms are hearing fewer cases to minimize contacts during the COVID-19 outbreak.
With the cancellation, CNB – which has made three official submissions for licensing to establish a resort and gaming operation in Pope County – must continue to await legal decisions on whether it can proceed with its proposal.
At two of its meetings, including one on March 4, the ARC had announced its intention to let legal issues resolve before considering the CNB application to open the Legends Resort and Casino in Russellville.
Gulfside Casino Partnership filed its lawsuit in August after all applicants, including CNB, had their license applications rejected.
The documents filed by GCP on Feb. 4 include an email written by Bryon Freeland, attorney for the ARC, 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 siting 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. The March 30 hearing was scheduled 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 reached.
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.”
CNB has issued findings that a venue would generate more than $3 billion worth of economic activity through its first decade.
The study suggested that the first year would bring 1,750 jobs and $43.3 million in employee income, and 21,000 jobs and $530 million worth of income through the first 10 years.