Cherokee leaders talk Arkansas casino

12/19/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH In November, Arkansas voters legalized casinos in four counties. Two licenses will be given to already existing electronic gaming facilities and tracks in West Memphis and Hot Springs. Following an application process, the other two licenses will be awarded to casinos for construction in Jefferson and Pope counties.

Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton said the Quapaw tribe, which has historic ties to the area, is interested in the Jefferson County location. The CN also has historic ties to north-central Arkansas and once possessed a reservation there from 1817-1828 that covered all or parts of 14 current Arkansas counties.

“The potential opportunity in Pope County, which is at Russellville, is certainly appealing to us,” Slaton said Monday when asked by tribal counselors for an update on the Arkansas gaming issue. “That said, the climate in Pope County is a little different in that a majority of the citizens who voted in the recent election there are opposed to a casino.”

The Arkansas measure was approved statewide with approximately 56 percent of the vote, but was opposed in Pope County by 60 percent of the voters. Pope County voters also approved an ordinance that mandates a local election before the county judge can write a letter of support for a casino.

“Should the citizens of Pope County decide they would like a casino in their county, Cherokee Nation Entertainment would like the opportunity to be the licensed operator.”

According to Arkansas Ethics Commission records, Cherokee Nation Businesses donated more than $2.2 million to the pro-casino group “Driving Arkansas Forward” and its effort to get the measure before voters.

“We supported Issue 4 because we’ve seen the economic transformation gaming has helped fuel in Oklahoma. We believe Pope County could see significant economic benefits and job growth from casino-style gaming.”

Arkansas casinos located on the border near Oklahoma casinos could adversely affect the CN to the tune of $100 million and hundreds of jobs over 10 years, Slaton said.

“The Quapaw had the same issue,” he said. “They had been working the last couple of years in Arkansas, and we decided to partner with them to see if we could get this ordinance passed since it did not authorize a casino along the western border. That, in a nutshell, was what our goal was.”

If the Quapaw Tribe is awarded a license for a Pine Bluff casino, a spokesman for the tribe said they hope to have a casino running by early 2020, according to the Associated Press.

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.
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