The Oklahoma tribal gaming company in a legal battle to build a casino in Russellville announced Thursday that it has completed its acquisition of Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica, Mississippi.
Cherokee Nation Businesses, which held the Arkansas Racing Commission license for the Russellville casino until a January court ruling in Pulaski County sent its licensing dispute with a Mississippi casino company up to the Arkansas Supreme Court, had announced plans for the Tunica acquisition in June 2022.
CNB, based in Catoosa, Oklahoma, has now officially assumed operations of Gold Strike in Tunica through an indirect subsidiary, CNE Gaming Holdings LLC, after gaining approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission. The tribal company acquired the casino and hotel project last year from Mandalay Resort Group LLC, a subsidiary of MGM Resorts International, in a $450 million cash deal.
The acquisition includes a long-term lease agreement with VICI Properties Inc. which owns the property. About a 30-minute drive from Memphis, the project includes a 32-story hotel tower, one of Tunica’s most recognized sites, more than 1,100 guest rooms and 125 suites. The 50,000-SF casino includes a sportsbook, high-limit gambling and a conference and convention center, along with restaurants and bars.
The commercial casino is a first for Cherokee Nation Businesses, which previously operated only tribal casinos in Oklahoma. The Russellville project, Legends Resort & Casino, would be the second.
“This is a historic day of growth for our hospitality portfolio as we enter the commercial gaming industry, and we welcome the wonderful team at Gold Strike to the family,” said Mark Fulton, president and chief operating officer of Cherokee Nation Entertainment. “For years, we’ve set the standard of excellence in gaming. We are excited to invest in this beautiful property and bring our three decades of industry experience to guests in the Mid-South market.”
More than 1,100 employees at Gold Strike will keep their jobs, the company said.
“This acquisition is a natural evolution for our company. Building our business outside of Oklahoma is a huge step that strengthens our ability to boost the Cherokee Nation economy while also building on our reputation of being a strong community partner and industry leader,” said Chuck Garrett, president and chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses. “We’re looking forward to sharing that commitment with the people of Mississippi by also investing in their communities and contributing to the local economy.”
CNB President and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Garrett called the Tunica deal a "huge step that strengthens our ability to boost the Cherokee Nation economy while building our reputation of being a strong community partner and industry leader."
Gold Strike will keep the Chicago Steakhouse, Buffet Americana and Sweet Tea as its dining staples, and has implemented a loyalty program for casino patrons offering rewards that can be redeemed at any of the Cherokee Nation’s 10 gaming halls, including the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa and nine tribal casinos in Oklahoma,
CBRE Securities was the exclusive strategic and financial adviser to Cherokee Nation Businesses in the transaction. Latham & Watkins, along with Scale LLP, were its legal advisors, and Jones Walker served as special gaming counsel.
Pope County Plans
Meanwhile, Cherokee Nation Businesses spokesperson Allison Burum offered a company update on the case in Arkansas, in which CNB and the Arkansas Racing Commission appealed January’s decision against them by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox. Fox ruled in favor of Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi, a rival for the Pope County casino license.
“After years of unfortunate delay, we are pleased with recent progress on the legal front and are anxious to receive a ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court so we can proceed with breaking ground and fulfilling our commitments to Pope County and the State of Arkansas,” Burum said.
CNB has spent $35 million to gather 180 acres for its planned hotel and casino northeast of downtown Russellville. The site is off Hob Nob Road and just north of Interstate 40 between the Weir Road and Bradley Cove Road exits, Burum said.
In a statement, Garrett, the CEO, said the company remains “confident in our legal position and look forward to receiving a timely decision and final resolution of this matter.”