Cherokee Nation Businesses leader gives Arkansas casino update

01/16/2019 03:45 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton addresses the Tribal Council during its Jan. 14 meeting. Slaton told legislators that a Mississippi-based company announced plans to build a three-phase, $250-million resort casino in Pope County, Arkansas. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Upon request, Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton delivered an update on Jan. 14 to the Tribal Council regarding Pope County, Arkansas, where a casino could be considered following a voter-approved amendment to that state’s constitution.

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 and selection process by local leaders, the other two licenses will be awarded to casinos for construction in Jefferson and Pope counties. The Jefferson County location has drawn interest from the Quapaw Tribe.

In late December, a Mississippi-based company announced plans to build a three-phase, $250-million resort casino in Pope County, according to the company’s press release promoting the venture.

“Gulfside Casino Partnership today submitted a letter to the Arkansas Racing Commission from Pope County Judge Ed Gibson in support of its application for casino gaming,” the release states. “Gulfside currently operates Island View Casino Resort in Gulfport, Miss. Pending regulatory approval, its Pope County River Valley Casino is expected to open by mid-2020.”

According to the Associated Press, the judge, along with former Russellville Mayor Randy Horton, sent letters of support in the days before their terms ended Jan. 1.

“The whole town of Russellville erupted and accused them of going around the process,” Slaton said. “The outgoing judge, the outgoing mayor really took it on the chin from the community. So did the casino operator that basically tried to backdoor the process.”

Pope County casino opponents sued to invalidate the letters of support.

“As it stands now, the racing commission adopted Rule No. 2, which said that before an application can be considered for a license, you had to have a current letter of support from the current judge and the current mayor,” Slaton said. “Based upon the reaction and the furor over how that was done, I believe that might be hard to get for them.”

The Arkansas amendment 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.
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