While almost 1000 commercial and tribal casinos in the US are being closed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the battle for the last available casino license in Arkansas continues. The Arkansas Racing Commission approved two measures to allow Gulfside Casino Partnership and Cherokee Nation/Legends to proceed to the final round of scoring that will define the casino operator in Pope County.
Casino Operations Expansion/New Casinos
Back in November 2018, voters approved the expansion of casino operations at Oakland Racing Casino Resort in Garland County, Southland Casino Racing in Crittenden County and for new casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties. The approval and licensing process, besides the one in Pope County, were fast and relatively smooth.
In June 2019, out of five applications for licenses, among which Tri-Peaks Entertainment Group, in a partnership with Hard Rock Café, River Ridge Casino Resort of the Kehl family from Iowa, Oklahoma-based Cherokee and Choctaw Nations, and Gulfside Casino Group, the Arkansas Racing Commission turned down all five.
Missing letters of recommendation or quorum court provision was the reason 4 groups of applicants were rejected. Gulfside was also rejected despite having both but the regulator decided against accepting them as the officials that have issued the documents, Mayor Horton and Pope County Judge Ed Gibson, were not in the respective active positions by the time of the application, as they left office on January 1, 2019.
Commissioners Faced Dilemmas
The Cherokee/Nation partnership got their quorum court provision in August, placing the dilemma in front of the commissioners whether to vote on a “good cause” ruling and accept the letter from the Pope County Judge.
And this was not the only choice the commission members were faced with, as a March 24 ruling from Polaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox required consideration of the Gulfside Casino plan, and if deciding to appeal it, the regulator would risk a delay of up to 18 months, a period during which the contract with the third-party hired to score the candidates would expire.
The decision by the Arkansas Racing Commission to approve both applications for the final scoring round was embraced with relief by the two groups of candidates.
“We are extremely pleased with the Arkansas Racing Commission’s unanimous vote to accept our application…We absolutely welcome the opportunity to have our company, its history and our application for Legends Resort & Casino Arkansas objectively scored and judged…”Chuck Garrett, CEO, Cherokee Nation Businesses
The Gulfside Casino Group issued a statement, greeting the decision by the commissioners to solve the problem with its eligibility, expressing their optimism ahead of the final scoring round.
“… We remain firm in the belief that we are the best choice for Pope County and for Arkansas, with 500 more permanent jobs and $10 million more in annual gaming tax revenue, all kept in state…”Lucas Rowan, Attorney, Gulfside Casino Group