Scoring of CNB, Gulfside casino applications expected by June 30
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – It won’t be the end of the Russellville casino saga, but the process of scoring the applications submitted by Cherokee Nation Businesses and Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi is seemingly about to begin, or already underway.
The applications are to be assessed through numerical scoring by gaming consultant Jim Fox, owner of Fox and Fox Consulting of Phoenix. His recommendation is expected by June 30 when the contract with his firm expires, said Scott Hardin of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
The Arkansas Racing Commission will make the decision on which interest is awarded the license to operate a resort and casino in Pope County, and it was suggested that officials for CNB and Gulfside would be interviewed as part of the process.
The ARC approved a points system for application to four criteria that, by state law, must be considered when assessing the applicants. They include experience with casino gaming, the timeline for opening the venue, proof of financial stability and access to financial resources, and the proposal summary.
Each can score a maximum of 30 points except for the casino timeline, weighted at 10 points.
In its May 7 meeting, the ARC allowed CNB and Gulfside another 10 days, beginning May 8, to provide more information to the commission, though Gulfside attorney Casey Castleberry opposed “allowing any amendment of application.”
Jim Fox is not related to Pulaski County (Ark.) County Circuit Judge Tim Fox, who ruled on March 24 the CNB application be sent back for assessment on its merits by the ARC.
The ARC decision will not necessarily be final, because CNB and Gulfside have stated their respective intentions to legally appeal denial of the license.
Jerry Malone, an attorney representing the anti-casino group Citizens for a Better Pope County, wrote in a Pulaski County Circuit Court filing in April that the ARC application periods should be invalidated because the ARC ignored its rule to assign points values to the scoring criteria.
He further claimed that the ARC had not included a point system in any notices requesting applications for the Pope County or Jefferson County casino licenses.
CNB attorney Dustin McDaniel argued in a letter to the ARC that the infraction was committed more than a year ago and no applicants objected to the omission, which could only harm CNB or Gulfside.
The ARC voted 6-1 in its May 7 meeting to allow the CNB application on “good cause” and unanimously agreed on the point system to score the two proposals.
In November 2018 Arkansas voters approved Amendment 100 to allow for expanded casino operations at Oaklawn and Southland, and to open new casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties.
The casino proposal submitted by Gulfside Casino Partnership included endorsement letters from Jim Ed Gibson, the former quorum court judge, and former Russellville Mayor Randy Horton, written just before their terms expired.
Accepting the argument of good cause meant the endorsements of CNB by current Quorum Court Judge Ben Cross and the quorum court were also valid.
ARC members also accepted the CNB’s good cause argument on April 15, but the commissioners decided to hold a second vote after Arkansas attorney John Tull sent a letter to the ARC complaining that any votes in that meeting should be nullified. Tull claimed the commission violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act because a decision was made in private before the public meeting.
Though the April 15 vote was unanimous, Commissioner Butch Rice changed his vote on May 7.