Last week, the Arkansas Racing Commission affirmed the award of a casino license to Gulfside Casino Partnership to build a gaming complex in Pope County. Competing operator Cherokee Nation Businesses has pledged to appeal the commission’s decision.
Mississippi-based Gulfside was initially awarded the license over Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB). Gulfside has proposed a $254 million casino resort, which will support 1,500 permanent jobs, $29 million in annual gaming tax revenue and an estimated payroll of more than $60 million, KATV reports. Former Russellville Mayor Randy Horton lobbied for the Gulfside proposal during his time in office.
However, the Pope County Quorum Court in August 2019 endorsed the $225 million Cherokee project. The Cherokees’ bid included a partnership with Legends, a stadium-management, sports, and live entertainment company founded in 2008 by Arkansas native and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the late George Steinbrenner, former owner of the New York Yankees.
Dustin McDaniel, an attorney representing Cherokee Nation Businesses' Legends Resort and Casino LLC, said Wednesday in a written statement that "our Administrative Procedures Act appeal will be filed soon, and it will highlight the points addressed in the Objections and Orders entered.
"The commission violated its own rules governing acceptance and scoring of license applications, disregarded the analysis of its outside consultant who said that Legends was the superior applicant in every respect, unlawfully altered the scores rendered by its review panel, and overlooked substantial evidence that Gulfside and its owners intentionally withheld evidence of their past bankruptcies, criminal investigations, and ineligibility for licensure in Mississippi," he said in a written statement.
In addition, McDaniel said "the presence of Commissioner Rice at today's meeting was surprising and inappropriate.
"We have no way of knowing whether he attempted to vote, as they were all voice votes," he said
In Wednesday’s meeting, the ARC voted 5-0 that it “properly exercised its authority in evaluating the applications and awarding points based on each merit criterion.” ARC members Alex Lieblong and Rice did not vote on the order.
“The approval of this Order was the last action required of the Commission related to the Pope County license. With this complete, the decision to issue the license to Gulfside may now be formally challenged via litigation,” noted Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, the parent agency of the ARC.