Garrett remains optimistic about CNB’s chances for Arkansas casino
An artist’s rendering of the Legends Resort & Casino that Cherokee Nation Businesses wants to build in Pope County, Arkansas. CNB officials said they are still trying to secure the license to open a casino and resort in the county. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – During the Tribal Council’s Oct. 29 Executive & Finance Committee meeting, councilors were told that Cherokee Nation Businesses is still trying to secure the license to open a casino and resort in Pope County, Arkansas.
CNB CEO Chuck Garrett said legal options were being pursued, without offering details.
“We’re in the midst of several court cases, so it’s a little bit tricky for me to comment too much on an active case,” Garrett said. “If we had it to do all over again, I would recommend the same decision. There is a big market to be captured. There’s also our current venues to be protected. So from an offensive and defensive play, it was the thing to do…. I feel really good about our potential of winning that license when the dust settles.”
Garrett was responding to a question from Tribal Councilor Wes Nofire, who pointed to the money spent trying to get the license.
Nofire suggested there are “other opportunities back here at home where we could put Cherokees to work, which we can’t do in Arkansas, and which we can actually build some more positive businesses that casinos.”
“Not only does our missions include generating profits so the Council and administration have funds to put towards programs that are much-needed, but also economic development,” Garrett said. “That comes in the form of job creation, building infrastructure that is necessary for non-CN businesses for that matter…. We do evaluate a wide range of opportunities. We try to balance that investment of time and money that you refer to for businesses that have high return on capital or high return to the local economy.”
In the most recent development concerning the Pope County casino, CNB filed a lawsuit on Oct. 13 seeking to block Gulfside Casino Partnership’s plans to open a casino “annex” during construction of the main venue.
CNB’s bid for the license was rejected by the Arkansas Racing Commission. In the suit, CNB says the ARC has no rules to govern the annex’s approval, and that it would be sited on acreage outside that approved under the license.
The CNB filing stated that “Gulfside is now in the process of unlawfully constructing and operating a temporary annex casino in Pope County, Arkansas, that wholly conflicts with its application, its representations to the (ARC), its casino gaming license and the Casino Gaming Rules.”
The Gulfside plan calls for completion of the 33,400-square-foot annex as it continues construction of its 80,000-square-foot casino and 500-bed hotel.
The ARC and Gulfside are named as defendants in the suit. Pope County Quorum Court Judge Ben Cross, who has voiced his support for the CNB proposal, is listed with CNB as a plaintiff.
“Pope County deserves a responsible operator that has a stellar track record of keeping promises made to communities, employees and local vendors,” Garrett said in a statement released Oct. 13. “While there are many legal proceedings left in this process, our commitment to Pope County and securing the casino license has never been greater.”
The ARC, in a 3-2 vote on July 31, refused the CNB appeal of its decision to select Gulfside.
Further discussing the gaming venues with the Council committee, Garrett said hours had been increased to 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. at resort properties and 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. Hotel room availability had been increased from 50% to 75% and partitions were installed to “increase our gaming availability to nearly 100%.” Masking policies remain in place, as does the no-smoking policy.