Garrett: CNB has sole application for disputed Arkansas casino license

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

TAHLEQUAH – Following a court decision that placed Cherokee Nation Businesses firmly in front to build a resort and casino in Russellville, Arkansas, CNB CEO Chuck Garrett addressed the Tribal Council’s Executive & Finance Committee on Oct. 28.

Garrett spoke about the Arkansas Supreme Court’s 4-2 ruling that found the addition of requirements by state lawmakers and the Arkansas Racing Commission to license a gaming facility in Pope County were allowed under the Arkansas Constitution.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in CNB’s favor in connection to the Arkansas gaming license for Pope County,” Garrett said. “For months, I sat here and tried to give an update that was more or less ‘I really like our legal arguments,’ and ‘looking forward to the conclusion of this litigation.’”

Saying he was grateful for the court’s decision, Garrett called it a CNB victory. “The long and short of the outcome was that the Gulfside (Casino) Partnership out of Mississippi was deemed to be an ineligible applicant for the casino license.”

Garrett said the decision left CNB as the only applicant with an eligible submission for the gaming license. “So we are in the process of working with the AG’s office in Arkansas as well as the leadership at the Arkansas Racing Commission to work through some of the administrative process to have our license issued to us. There remains some dangling litigation matters that will be resolved over the coming weeks and months.”

Having visited Russellville the previous day, Garrett said local officials and businesses looked forward to CNB operating in the community.

“We look forward to bringing a world-class entertainment venue to them, and generating profits and dividends for generations of Cherokees in the future,” he said.

Asked about a possible timeframe on concluding the remaining litigation, Garrett said, “It’s not weeks. It’s not years.”

“By this time next year, I fully expect us to be in the process of building a great casino and entertainment venue in Russellville,” he said.

With one justice’s recusal, the court overruled and dismissed the finding of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox that the changes were unconstitutional. The ruling let stand the ARC and legislative laws requiring endorsement letters for the casino be awarded by local officials in office at the time of application.

The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision suggests CNB is the only legal contender for the license. 

CNB repeatedly argued that Gulfside’s application could not receive approval due to invalid endorsements. That application was endorsed by officials who had since left office: Jim Ed Gibson, while Pope County judge, and Randall Horton while mayor of Russellville. The endorsements were obtained near the end of 2018, only days before both they left office. The initial application period opened in May 2019.

CNB received the endorsements of the current Pope County judge, Ben Cross, and the Pope County Quorum Court. However, the makeup of the court has since changed, and it answered the Supreme Court’s decision with a resolution opposing the construction of a casino.

Gulfside can petition for the case to be reheard before the Arkansas Supreme Court issues its mandate ordering the reversal and dismissal of the lower court’s decision. The higher court has roughly a half-month to send the mandate. Otherwise, the ruling appears final.

Russellville Mayor Richard Harris is encouraging casino opponents to sign a petition to remove Pope County from Amendment 100. Approved by Arkansas voters in October 2018, Amendment 100 allows the establishment of casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties, and expansion of the horse track facilities at Hot Springs and West Memphis to include casino gaming.

The anti-casino group Citizens for a Better Pope County considered the court decision an elimination of Gulfside and affirmation of the ambiguity of Amendment 100. The group must gather 89,151 signatures to get the change to Amendment 100 on the ballot.