Garrett says CNB will appeal Arkansas Racing Commission decision
TAHLEQUAH – Following its most recent setback before the Arkansas Racing Commission, Cherokee Nation Businesses is formulating its arguments to appeal a decision that awarded a casino license in Pope County, Arkansas, to Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi.
The ARC, in a 3-2 vote on July 31, refused the CNB appeal of the commission’s decision to select Gulfside.
Speaking during the Executive & Finance Committee meeting on Aug. 27 at the Tribal Complex, CNB CEO Chuck Garrett said he made a requested visit on Aug. 25 to give an “update” to the Pope County Quorum Court.
“We are in process of appealing the rulings of the racing commission and the ruling of a certain court judge on an issue … several months ago,” Garrett said. “We continue to feel we are the best and most qualified applicant.”
Garrett did not go into detail on arguments that might constitute an appeal, but said the CNB expected the input of a consultant to be given more weight by the ARC.
“The racing commission hired an expert consultant to advise them and provide some guidance in their selection,” Garrett said. “Ironically, that consultant found that Cherokee Nation Businesses was the preferred applicant in each of the four criteria set out by the racing commission. Unfortunately, for reasons that are not obvious, the commission did not take the expert’s opinion as part of their decision.”
Garrett was referring to the recommendations of Jim Fox, owner of Fox and Fox Consulting of Phoenix. The applications were assessed through numerical scoring. Fox’s recommendation was initially expected by June 30, but it was delayed by other legal proceedings.
Fox’s report was not binding, but the ARC reportedly paid Fox’s firm $150,000 to score the applications, with the CNB subsidiary Legends Resort & Casino LLC receiving the recommendation. Fox pointed to CNB’s intent to build a $225 million casino within two years with no outside financial assistance.
“It is unfortunate that the commissioners didn’t have the benefit of access to this report prior to awarding scores to each applicant on June 18,” Dustin McDaniel, attorney representing CNB, said when the recommendation was announced.
ARC members voting to deny the CNB appeal on July 31 were Bo Hunter, Denny East and Michael Post. Steve Landers and Mark Lamberth voted against the motion.
Gulfside co-owner Terry Green said he expected further legal challenges from CNB, but added that Gulfside was “delighted” with the decision after a “long hard-fought battle on both sides.”
“We are very excited about hurrying up and getting started to build a casino,” Green said. “I think we have a few more court matters to go through.”
The ARC listened to arguments from the legal teams about the merits of CNB’s appeal. Before hearing those arguments, members voted to throw out the votes of Butch Rice, whose lopsided scoring of the casino proposals was deemed biased, and Alex Lieblong, who recused himself and consideration of his scores. Members also restated that CNB’s Legends Resort & Casino was a qualified applicant.
When the scores were initially submitted on June 18, they favored Gulfside. With Rice’s scores dismissed, CNB scored higher by a slim margin.
However, with Lieblong’s recusal and his scores removed, the tallies placed Gulfside back in the lead, 464-448.
Lamberth suggested the option of re-scoring the applications in light of two scores being thrown out, but the commissioners made no motion.
“What we do here today is going to be reviewed and acted upon by the courts, and it’ll take a long time, I am sure,” Lamberth said.