The Arkansas Racing Commission on Friday awarded the Pope County casino license to Cherokee Nation Businesses, giving the company control of the state’s fourth and final casino license.
The commission, meeting after a ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court last month that invalided the license held by Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi, voted 3-2 to award the license, according to a report Arkansas Business news partner THV 11 News. Two commission members abstained.
“I sincerely thank the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office and the Arkansas Racing Commission for their work in this complicated matter,” Dustin McDaniel, an attorney for CNB, said in a statement. “[Commission Executive Director John Campbell] presented us with the license shortly after the meeting.”
McDaniel said the company would file motions to dismiss in other related court cases and look to resolve other legal matters so it could move ahead with construction of a Legends Resort & Casino and pay $38.8 million to Pope County as part of an economic development agreement.
The Arkansas Racing Commission last year granted the Pope County license 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 last month 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 has secured the endorsement of Gibson's successor, Judge Ben Cross. 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.
CNB has 10 casino properties in Oklahoma, including the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa.
“Today marks an exciting and significant milestone in what has been a long and complicated process,” CNB CEO Chuck Garrett said in a statement.
“Legends Resort & Casino will be a premier casino resort with elevated amenities specifically designed to reflect the beautiful and unique qualities of the River Valley and serve as a much-needed anchor for economic growth,” Garrett continued. “We are eager to put forth our large-scale development plans to the Russellville Planning commission, and ultimately, for litigation to come to an end so that we can proceed with construction.”
In a statement, Gulfside attorney Lucas Rowan said Legends Resort & Casino is not a qualified applicant.
"Legends has no casino gaming experience and, therefore, is not a qualified applicant," he said. "This issue is pending in circuit court, and we expect it will be resolved through the legal system."