Arkansas Tourism Alliance

Arkansas: Cherokees form new committee to fight Choctaw-backed anti-casino campaign in Pope County

Rendering for Cherokees' proposed Legends Resort & Casino in Pope County, Arkansas.
Reading time 1:45 min

Cherokee Nation Businesses is set to fight an anti-casino campaign against its proposed Legends Resort & Casino project in Pope County, Arkansas. Dustin McDaniel, attorney for the business arm of the Cherokee Nation, has partnered with Little Rock attorney David Couch to fire back: the lawyers announced on Tuesday the creation of a ballot question committee called the Arkansas Tourism Alliance.

The new committee is set to oppose anti-casino group Fair Play Arkansas, reports Arkansas Business. The Fair Play group is gathering signatures for a ballot measure that would remove Pope County from Amendment 100, the measure approved in 2018 to expand gaming in the state. It must submit 89,151 signatures by July 8 to make the November ballot.

According to McDaniel, the Arkansas Tourism Alliance will encourage voters not to sign the petition, arguing it threatens jobs and tourism revenue. It also aims “to educate voters on the true purpose and effect” of Fair Play Arkansas, which it accuses of being “merely a front for those who would rather see billions of dollars for Oklahoma and not Arkansas.”

Arkansas Times claims there is a “high-dollar battle” underway over the proposed amendment to strip the state constitution of authorization of a casino in the county. The first campaign finance report for the Arkansas Tourism Alliance shows more than $1 million in cash on hand, all from the Cherokee Nation.

“Fair Play for Arkansas was formed to eliminate the Pope County casino license and is funded entirely by an out-of-state casino operator that was unsuccessful in its own pursuit of the license,” the Cherokee Nation-backed committee claims, in reference to Choctaw Nation.

Fair Play Arkansas has long argued that Pope County never wanted a casino, given a majority of voters in the county opposed the 2018 amendment that expanded gaming in the state. Last month, the group announced that Oklahoma-based Choctaw Nation, a Cherokees rival, was providing financial support and other resources for their campaign.

Choctaw Nation is not foreign to the Pope County project: the tribe had been part of the license application which, in the end, was awarded to the Cherokees. Choctaws have also been linked to anti-casino justices of peace, reports Arkansas Business, with Pope County Judge Ben Cross accusing them in December of colluding to disrupt casino plans.

Amendment 100 authorized in 2018 four casinos in different parts of the state, three of them now in operation in West Memphis, Pine Bluff and Hot Springs. Meanwhile, Pope County has been embroiled in a prolonged court battle over the permit, pending litigation, between Cherokees and rival operator Gulfside Casino Partnership.

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