Arkansas Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Cherokee Nation; Casino License Fight Isn't Over, Gulfside Says

Arkansas Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Cherokee Nation; Casino License Fight Isn't Over, Gulfside Says

The Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a ruling that favors Cherokee Nation Businesses in its legal fight with Gulfside Casino Partnership over the state’s fourth casino license.

The Arkansas Racing Commission last year granted the license for the county to Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi, but CNB challenged a letter of support for Gulfside that Pope County Judge Jim Ed Gibson signed 10 days before his term expired in 2018.

Months later, in May 2019, the application window for the casino license opened.

The state's high court ruled that an entity could not become an applicant until that time, and that the required letter of support had to come from the active county judge, not a former or retired judge. 

CNB, which secured the endorsement of Gibson's successor, Judge Ben Cross, said in a statement Thursday that it's now the only qualified applicant for the license. It's planning a $225 million project, Legends Resort & Casino, with 50,000 SF of gaming space, 200 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 permanent jobs.

“Today’s ruling is exciting and greatly appreciated," Dustin McDaniel, legal counsel for CNB and a former state attorney general, said in a statement. "I know CNB is ready to put an end to litigation and start building. We anticipate CNB’s license will be issued as soon as the mandate is effective, and we will work quickly to bring final resolution to any remaining lawsuits."

CNB has 10 casino properties in Oklahoma, including the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa. Chuck Garrett, CEO, vowed in a statement to "replicate the success we have achieved in other markets by working cooperatively with state and local officials to make our project a success on day one.”

“CNB appreciates the Supreme Court’s decision on this important matter," Garrett said. "We want to thank Pope County Judge Ben Cross and the community at large for their faith and unwavering support. Our team is extremely excited to deliver the world-class Legends Resort & Casino and bring jobs and economic growth to the River Valley."

Gulfside had planned a $254 million complex called the River Valley Casino Resort. Plans included 80,000 SF of gaming space and more than 1,500 permanent jobs. 

"We are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, but this isn’t the end of the road," Gulfside counsel Casey Castleberry said in a statement. "We remain committed to building a first-class entertainment destination in Pope County and bringing good-paying jobs and economic development to the state.”