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Arkansas Racing Commission Awards Pope County Casino License to Cherokee Nation

2 min read

The Arkansas Racing Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to award the state’s fourth and final casino license to Cherokee Nation Entertainment, clearing the way for a casino in Pope County after years of legal fighting over the license.

Representatives of CNE, including CEO Chuck Garrett, told the commission that they’re prepared to proceed immediately with the $320 million Legends Resort & Casino project. One of the first tasks will be obtaining permits that CNE could not acquire until they were awarded the license. CNE has already purchased 350 acres northeast of Russellville along Interstate 40 for the project.

CDI Contractors of Little Rock is the project’s general contractor. Plans call for a 200-room hotel, 50,000-SF of gaming space, a 15,000-SF conference center, a 5,000-seat outdoor music venue, a water park, a dog park and an RV park.

The Cherokees estimate that the project will have a $5 billion economic impact on Arkansas in the first 10 years.

CNE was awarded the license over its main rival, Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership, which had proposed a $450 million casino project. The commission rejected Gulfside’s application because it did not include required letters of support from the Pope County judge or Pope County Quorum Court.

The Cherokees, on the other hand, held a letter of support from Pope County Judge Ben Cross and the endorsement of the quorum court.

A Gulfside representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Thursday’s commission vote.

Arkansans voted to expand casino gaming in the state in 2018. Since then, new casino facilities have been built at Southland in West Memphis and Oaklawn in Hot Springs. The Quapaw Nation also built a new gambling hall in Pine Bluff.

But the Pope County project stalled after the Arkansas Supreme Court voided gaming licenses for CNE and Gulfside. An October ruling by the state’s high court reopened the application process, which ended with CNE winning the license Thursday.

A constitutional amendment on the ballot in November would allow voters to repeal the casino license, but CNE said it’s not going let that affect its plans.

“For more than five years, we have been laying the groundwork for this economic development project and embracing local community input,” Garrett said in a statement after CNE was awarded the license. “With the license in hand, we are prepared to finalize the remaining permitting and administrative processes so we can commence construction.”

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