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September 17, 2019

They follow Gulfside Casino Partnership's application for Pope County

Hard Rock, Cherokees, Choctaws and Kehl apply for casino license in Arkansas

Hard Rock, Cherokees, Choctaws and Kehl apply for casino license in Arkansas
Las Vegas-based Warner Gaming announced it is partnering with the Hard Rock brand to propose a USD 230 million, 300-room hotel and casino on land in unincorporated Pope County.
United States | 05/31/2019

On the deadline to submit proposals, only one application has been submitted for Jefferson County, from the Quapaw Nation's Downstream Development Authority. None of the Pope County casino applications include letters of support from current local leaders. Racing Commission, which will consider the applications June 13, says letters of support can only come from current officeholders.

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our more applications have been submitted to operate casinos in Arkansas. Thursday was the deadline to submit an application to operate casinos in Jefferson or Pope County under an amendment that voters approved last year.

The state received applications Thursday for a Pope County casino from the Cherokee Nation, Tri-Peaks Entertainment Group LLC (Hard Rock Hotel and Casino partnered with Warner Gaming), Robert and Ruth Kehl Family and the Choctaw Nation. The state had previously received an application from Gulfside Casino Partnership.

Only one application has been submitted for Jefferson County, from the Quapaw Nation's Downstream Development Authority.

None of the Pope County casino applications include letters of support from current local leaders, while the Jefferson County application does, according to Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration. Racing Commission regulations say letters of support can only come from current officeholders. The Racing Commission will consider the applications June 13.

The four applications put in at the deadline join the Gulfside Casino Partnership, which operates a venue in Mississippi, in vying for a casino in Arkansas' River Valley, despite opposition in Pope County. Gulfside submitted its application May 20.

Attorneys for Gulfside have already indicated plans to sue if the Racing Commission rejects the letters from former officials, Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported. "As far as I know, there is still no qualified applicant that has applied," said Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, who said she is personally opposed to a casino opening in her home county.

Likewise, Russellville Mayor Richard Harris said he had met with the Choctaws, Cherokees and Warner Gaming of Las Vegas, which operates the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, about their proposals, and was not planning to endorse any casino.

Warner Gaming CEO Bill Warner delivered his company's submission for a $230 million, 300-room hotel and casino on land in unincorporated Pope County. According to a news release, the company's plans include a sports complex named for pro football and baseball star Bo Jackson to go along with a 44,450-square-foot casino.

"As we were getting some feedback from the people of Pope County as to what they wanted in a project, youth activities, sports, those types of things kept coming up," Warner said in a brief interview outside the Racing Commission's offices. "So I reached out to Bo, and he was willing to partner in on this sports complex."

Warner said the company would continue to meet with officials in Pope County about its plans, but that it would "respect the process" of the Racing Commission. "My understanding is [officials in Pope County] want to have a strong say in the outcome," he said.

Dan Kehl, the CEO of Kehl Management (which runs casinos in Iowa), said Thursday evening that his company is proposing to invest $216 million in a 300-room hotel along with a 60,000-square-foot casino. He added that the company planned to start a locally administered nonprofit organization to which the company will donate $25 million over five years.

Gulfside's plans for a $200 million River Valley Casino Resort include a 300-room hotel along with a 60,000-square-foot casino, according to its website. Gulfside also has pledged to invest $20 million in education in Pope County, over a 20-year period, if awarded a casino license.

In Jefferson County, plans for the Saracen Resort Casino submitted by the Downstream Development Authority include a $350 million hotel-casino with 300 rooms on land east of the Pines Mall. Downstream Development submitted endorsement letters from the current Pine Bluff mayor and Jefferson County judge in addition to its application.

Arkansas voters approved Amendment 100 to the state constitution last year to place casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties. The amendment also allows Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs and Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis to expand their operations into full-fledged casinos.

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