CNB seeks reversal of decision on casino license

An artist’s rendering of the Legends Resort & Casino that Cherokee Nation Businesses hopes to build in Pope County, Arkansas. 

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Attorneys representing Cherokee Nation Businesses have filed another lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the Arkansas Racing Commission’s decision to award the Pope County gaming license to Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership.

The Feb. 16 filing alleges “errors, arbitrary actions and legal non-compliance” that failed to choose CNB’s application to build Legends Resort & Casino LLC.

In the filing, CNB’s attorneys ask Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen to reverse the ARC’s decision to grant the license to Gulfside. They say the CNB application is “objectively superior” because it does not seek outside financing, has a shorter timeline to completion, has the endorsements of Pope County officials in office and CNB has more experience with gaming venues.

The ARC initially rejected Gulfside’s application, but Gulfside won a case in March 2020 to get its request for the license considered.

In a Feb. 4 ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court decided CNB could intervene in a lawsuit as part of the legal battle between CNB and the ARC concerning the commission’s decision in favor of Gulfside.

Though filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, the Feb. 16 suit is a separate case filed in response to ARC formalizing its selection of Gulfside by affirming its 3-2 vote of July 2020.

Also named in the suit are the ARC members and Gulfside, and CNB attorneys cite a list of errors made in the process of choosing Gulfside.

Among the alleged errors are the intentional submission of inaccurate information by Gulfside concerning its finances and history of running casinos and violation of other rules, failure to secure the endorsements of Pope County officials still in office and failure of the ARC to adopt facts, decisions or conclusions meeting legal requirements.

CNB attorneys are asking that the ARC decision be reversed, claiming that Gulfside’s application is not legally sufficient and therefore disqualifies it for consideration – leaving CNB as the lone remaining applicant – and that the ARC commissioners broke the law in granting the Pope County casino license to Gulfside.

Due to continuing litigation, Gulfside has not begun construction of the casino approved for Pope County by Arkansas voters when they passed Amendment 100 to the state constitution. The casino is to be built near Russellville.

In the Arkansas Supreme Court decision, the court disagreed with the ruling of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox. 

“The narrow question before us is whether the circuit court erred in refusing to allow Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC, to intervene in litigation brought by Gulfside Casino Partnership against the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration and the Arkansas Racing Commission,” wrote Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Shawn A. Womack in the court’s opinion. “We conclude that (CNB) was entitled to intervention as a matter of right and therefore reverse and remand the circuit court's decision…. The protracted litigation surrounding the license has carried on in numerous actions brought before multiple circuit courts, this court and the Commission.”

Fox previously had ruled CNB could not intervene, and the case will be returned to his court.

Dustin McDaniel, representing CNB, said the Supreme Court’s decision set aside Fox’s order to allow Gulfside to apply for the license.

“This means that, for now, the state statute and Arkansas Racing Commission rule that both expressly disqualify Gulfside as an applicant are back in effect,” McDaniel said.

Amendment 100, passed in October 2018 by Arkansas voters, allowed the establishment of new casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties, and expansion of the horse track facilities at Hot Springs and West Memphis to include casino gaming.