Potential competition for Oklahoma's tribe

Arkansas: Choctaws contribute $125K in campaign against proposed Pope County casino project

Rendering for Legends Resort & Casino in Pope County, Arkansas.
2022-02-16
Reading time 2:09 min

Oklahoma-based Choctaw Nation is putting $125,000 in an ongoing fight to block a casino project in Pope County, Arkansas, local media reports. The group Fair Play Arkansas, which opposes the proposed gaming development, said on Monday that the Choctaws would be providing financial support to the cause, which therefore remains alive despite a rejected bidder dropping its motion to intervene on the same day.

According to a spokesman, the money would pay canvassers to gather signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to strip the provision that legalized a casino in the county, reports Arkansas Times.

A filing on Tuesday with the state Ethics Commission, retrieved by the cited news source, shows the tribal nation contributed $125,000. The Fair Play Arkansas committee had previously only raised about $7,200 in total.

The Choctaw Nation operates casino venues in Oklahoma, and the proposed Pope County expansion would see a new competitor near their gambling facilities. Choctaws were part of the application process for the Pope County license, although they dropped the competition in 2020.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma was ultimately declared the recipient of the permit by the Arkansas Racing Commission, although this decision came amid an ongoing court battle over the approval process.

The recipient selection process has been surrounded by controversy. In October, the state’s Supreme Court sided with the Cherokee Nation in its legal fight against Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi, also an applicant for the license. 

Gulfside, which was initially awarded the license, had filed a lawsuit to issue a temporary restraining order halting any movement on the project. The company had lost the license after its application was found invalid because its letter of support for the project was signed by the outgoing county judge, instead of the current one, as required by Amendment 100. On Monday, Gulfside dropped its motion to intervene in the case by casino opponents to get the permit canceled. 

Thus, the Cherokee Nation is facing opposition from a number of parties, including Gulfside, anti-casino group Citizens for a Better Pope County, and the aforementioned Fair Play Arkansas committee.

Fair Play Arkansas was established by residents of Pope County in an effort to block the proposed casino. The group claims the project was approved by a statewide ballot initiative, without any input from Pope County citizens, which rejected Amendment 100 by a 3-2 margin.

“Unfortunately, a new amendment is the only way Pope County can be removed from our constitution,” the group claims. “We deserve what 71 other counties in Arkansas enjoy: the freedom to live without a controversial gambling development forced on us.”

The Tuesday filing says $125,000 has been paid to the Friday, Eldredge & Clark law firm in Little Rock for legal services, ArkTimes further reports. The law firm has been involved in many ballot initiative campaigns. The petition drive would need to secure about 90,000 signatures to include a constitutional amendment in the state ballot in November.

In January, it was revealed the Cherokee’s proposed Legends Resort & Casino in Pope County still remained on hold amid litigation, as the Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) has yet to schedule a groundbreaking for the $225 million property.

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