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Gulfside Casino Partnership Makes Pitch to Pope County

4 min read

More on the years-long fight for the Pope County license:
Pope County Judge Ben Cross Makes Case for Cherokee Casino
State Supreme Court Rules Against Cherokee Casino in Russellville
Long-Delayed Legends Casino Faces Final Legal Challenge
Cherokee Bet $35M on Land for Casino

Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi is doubling down on its bid to build a casino in Pope County, pledging a $405 million investment.

But questions remain unsettled about a gaming license that has clouded plans for the River Valley casino since Arkansas voters legalized casino gambling in 2018.

Gulfside’s proposal calls for a $65 million upfront payment to Pope County, Russellville and other nearby communities, according to a news release. The company also pledged to invest nearly $40 million “directly into Pope County,” in addition to $2 million annually, as part of an economic development deal. The company now owns and operates Island View Casino Resort in Gulfport.

“The unveiling of this visionary project marks a pivotal moment for Pope County and the Arkansas River Valley,” Terry Green, co-owner of Gulfside, said in a statement. “Our proposed River Valley Casino Resort will redefine regional tourism with 70,000 square feet of unparalleled gaming space, 1,500 state-of-the-art slot machines, 50 table games and a dedicated sportsbook, among other world-class amenities.”

He said plans call for a high-end destination to drive economic development and employment in the area. The project would include a 300-room hotel, a steakhouse and casino lounge, a 24-hour cafe and a coffee and pastry shop.

“The property will also feature an outdoor amphitheater and entertainment area, a resort pool and cabanas, a luxury spa, a fitness center, a convention center and meeting spaces,” the release said.

“Our goal from day one has been to offer the citizens of Pope County and Arkansas a best-in- class resort experience,” Casey Castleberry, Gulfside’s counsel, said in a statement. “We are proud to present that offer to the Pope County Quorum Court, along with a landmark investment in the community.”

However, Gulfside is in fierce competition for the last of four Arkansas casino licenses. Casinos have operated for years at Southland in West Memphis, Oaklawn in Hot Springs, and Saracen in Pine Bluff.

Pope County Judge Ben Cross supports a casino plan by Cherokee Nation Businesses of Oklahoma, which is seeking to build a $320 million Legends Resort & Casino and has bought 350 acres along Interstate 40.

Mark Fulton, who leads CNB’s casino, racing, hotel and retail operations, noted Cross’ support in a statement Wednesday. “Our shovel-ready development positions us to be open and operating more than a year ahead of any other proposals,” he said. “Legends Resort & Casino is a world-class entertainment destination that will bring thousands of jobs to Pope County and provide more than $5 billion in economic impact over the first 10 years.”

The state Supreme Court at different times has voided casino licenses granted to both Gulfside and Cherokee Nation Businesses, and the Arkansas Racing Commission has reopened an application period for CNB and Gulfside to compete for the final license.

Cross told Arkansas Business in February that he expects CNB to prevail, considering it has obtained a letter of support from him and a resolution of support from a divided Pope County Quorum Court. But considering legal twists in the licensing process over the past five years, nothing seems certain.

Gulfside said in the release that it is family-owned, and expects its project in Pope County to create nearly 1,700 direct jobs if it gains the license. It said its payroll could top $60 million a year, and operations would generate tax revenues estimated at $29.5 million.

“Gulfside Casino Partnership is more than just a tourist destination or local employer; it is an economic driver and philanthropic partner committed to the prosperity and vitality of our Pope County communities,” Castleberry said, making his case to the public. “As part of our commitment to the region, we are exploring an option to purchase nearly 20 acres from the City of Russellville that had previously been acquired for a convention center.”

“Contingent upon the city agreeing to a land option to purchase nearly 20 lakefront acres for no more than $5 million, Gulfside will pay $10 million to the City of Russellville,” the release said. “The total investment would help the city move forward with its long-planned convention center.”

The $10 million for Russellville is in addition to $5 million Gulfside proposes to pay the city to buy about 20 lakefront acres. If the city does not sell the property to Gulfside, Russellville will receive $5 million reducing the proposed total economic development agreement to $60 million.

“Simply put: River Valley Casino Resort is a sure bet to bring Arkansas more jobs, more entertainment and 50% more tax revenue than any other option on the table,” Castleberry said.

Gulfside is also pledging to invest nearly $15 million in five other Pope County communities, fire protection districts and education-related and arts nonprofit organizations.

Pope County Quorum Court members will have the opportunity to grant Gulfside a resolution of support at their next regularly scheduled meeting on June 6.

The Arkansas Racing Commission’s application window will close on June 11.

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