Groundbreaking plans

Arkansas: Cherokees' Pope County casino gets development plan approval, awaits litigation and possible ballot measure

Reading time 1:33 min

The Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB)'s Pope County casino project in Arkansas has received approval from the city of Russellville. However, despite the latest approval of a large-scale development plan, the question of whether the casino will be built remains, as there is litigation against Legends Resort and Casino and more than 100,000 signatures that require a ballot measure pulling Pope County out of the casino running for good.

In a statement on Monday, Legends said they will pursue the final permits and approvals so that once that litigation is wrapped up, they can break ground. In terms of those 100,000 signatures, they will be analyzed to see if that question will be put to voters, who in November could decide if Pope County should have a casino at all.

According to state law, a group is required to have 75% of the required signatures with 75% of the counties to qualify for a period to “cure” a shortage with additional signatures. Submission of signatures also begins a 30-day process in which the state Board of Election Commissioners must certify the ballot title and popular name.

Mark Avants, a contractor in Pope County is certain this gamble will pay off. "Yes, I think it’s actually going to happen," Avants said, as reported by "Every contractor in town is expecting this to happen".

The constitution amendment allowed for casinos in both Pope and Jefferson counties, as well as at the established race tracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis. Legends Resort and Casino, formed as an Arkansas limited liability company on September 11, 2019, first submitted an application for the license on January 15, 2020. Before that, the application was solely in the name of CNB, wholly owned by the Cherokee Nation.

Pope County voters rejected the casino amendment, but their vote couldn’t override the dictates of the amendment, which requires the issuance of a permit in Pope County is supported by the county judge, quorum court, or mayor of a city in which the casino would be located. County Judge Ben Cross supports the Cherokee permit.

Repeal of a Pope County permit wouldn’t appear to affect the casinos at Oaklawn, Saracen in Pine Bluff, and Southland in West Memphis, all authorized by the same constitutional amendment. But there are some who think fiddling with a constitutional amendment risks unforeseen consequences.

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