CNB, Gulfside still in running to open Arkansas casino
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – After a video conference meeting of members of the Arkansas Racing Commission on April 15, Cherokee Nation Businesses will face a final assessment of – and some competition against – its bid for the rights to site a resort and casino in Pope County.
The ARC made two critical decisions: It chose not to appeal a ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox that demanded consideration of the casino proposal submitted by Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi, and accepted a “good cause” ruling to recognize the letter of support from current Pope County officials for the CNB bid as valid.
Both decisions were supported unanimously by ARC members.
The Gulfside Casino Partnership casino proposal includes endorsement letters from Jim Ed Gibson, the former quorum court judge, and former Russellville Mayor Randy Horton, written just before their terms expired.
The good cause decision means the endorsements of CNB by current Quorum Court Judge Ben Cross and current Russellville Mayor Richard Harris are also valid.
Both applications will be assessed through numerical scoring by gaming consultant Jim Fox, owner of Fox and Fox Consulting of Phoenix. His recommendation is expected before June 30, according to Scott Hardin of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. The ARC will make the final decision, and officials for CNB and Gulfside are likely to be interviewed beforehand.
“We absolutely welcome the opportunity to have our company, its history, and our application for Legends Resort and Casino Arkansas objectively scored and judged,” said CNB CEO Chuck Garrett. “We are confident the choice will be clear, as it has been in Pope County. We look forward to earning the commission’s support on our merits and fulfilling our commitments to Pope County and the state of Arkansas.”
Jim Fox is not related to Pulaski County County Circuit Judge Tim Fox, who on March 24 ruled the application be sent back for assessment on its merits by the ARC. He ruled that commission requirements for the casino applications on the recommendations of county officials were unconstitutional. It was Tim Fox’s ruling that the ARC chose not to appeal, with members citing a potential delay of 18 months. Furthermore, the contract with Jim Fox’s firm expires on June 30.
In his ruling, Tim Fox said the requirement “imposes an additional qualification, sometimes referred to as a ‘negative’ qualification not found in Amendment 100.”
In 2018 Arkansas voters approved Amendment 100 to allow for expanded casino operations at Oaklawn and Southland, and to open casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties.
A demand by Gulfside that its application be sent to the ARC with instructions to license Gulfside was rejected by Tim Fox.
Accepting the good cause argument in favor of CNB also could have sparked an appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court, but Gulfside has not yet made such a move.
“Gulfside is pleased the issue of our eligibility is now settled,” Gulfside attorney Lucan Rowan said in a statement. “We remain firm in the belief that we are the best choice for Pope County and for Arkansas…. We look forward to continuing to make the strong case for why we should receive the casino license.”
The desire not to stretch the decision process into 2021 could be due to some recent revolt at the ballot box by Pope County voters.
On March 3, voters dumped four of five quorum court incumbents who supported the CNB application. The new court will be seated in 2021. Voters also, by landslide margins, rejected five bonds supported by Cross.
Citizens for a Better Pope County, an anti-casino lobby, claims on its Facebook page that the ARC has authority under Amendment 100 to reject any applicant.
An entry urges opponents to contact the ARC “If you believe that our local officials have misrepresented the will of Pope County voters by endorsing the CNB application, and that the Racing Commission should hold to their resolution to delay any action until all pending litigation has been resolved….”