Cherokee Nation Businesses donations to Arkansas casino initiative tops $2M
Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton speaks to the Tribal Council’s Executive & Finance Committee in January about groups in Arkansas wanting to pass ballot initiatives for casinos in that state. According to Arkansas Ethics Commission records, CNB has given more than $2.2 million to a group wanting four casinos in Arkansas. COURTESY
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – According to Arkansas Ethics Commission records, Cherokee Nation Businesses has donated more than $2.2 million to a group that’s attempting to get casinos in Arkansas by placing it on the ballot.
According to records filed on Oct. 30, CNB made an Oct. 19 donation in the amount of $664,535. According to past AEC filings, CNB donated $513,400 on Sept. 11, $525,300 on July 30 and $525,300 on June 25. In all, CNB has given $2,228,535 to the casino group Driving Arkansas Forward, which was attempting to put four casinos in the state via the Nov. 6 election.
Driving Arkansas Forward Chairman Don Tilton said if the proposal passed then Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs (Garland County) and Southland Park Gaming in West Memphis (Crittenden County) would be grandfathered in as full-fledged casinos.
Both are currently limited on what gaming they offer, Tilton said.
He added that the group would also have casinos in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and Russellville (Pope County) authorized.
Garland County is in central Arkansas, and Crittenden County is in northeastern Arkansas. Jefferson County is in south central Arkansas, and Pope County is in north central Arkansas.
In a prior Cherokee Phoenix story, CNB CEO Shawn Slaton said CNB contributed the money to help “protect Cherokee jobs.”
“A significant portion of our market originates in northwest Arkansas, and if an operator other than Cherokee Nation were to gain a foothold, that would threaten jobs at Cherokee Casinos West Siloam Springs and Roland. It could also decrease, for the first time ever, revenue that ultimately funds health care, housing, education and other tribal services. CNB will always go to whatever lengths necessary to protect Cherokee jobs and not only preserve, but continue to increase the dividend paid to the Cherokee Nation, which funds critical services for Cherokee Nation citizens,” Slaton said.
CNB officials said the donations were to help with expenditures such as campaigning and advertising to get the proposal placed on the ballot.
In 2016, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a ballot initiative to build three casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties because of language containing references to sports wagering, which was illegal in Arkansas under federal law.
CNB contributed more than $6 million for advertising campaigns for that initiative.
After the measure was struck down, CNB was given back approximately $1.5 million.
If the ballot had passed, Cherokee Nation Entertainment would have operated a casino, hotel and entertainment venue in Washington County.
At that time, Slaton said the decision to support the 2016 ballot was based on what was best for the Cherokee Nation, CNE employees and the revenue stream that funds vital CN social services and programs.