Cherokee Nation Entertainment Wins Sole Bid for Arkansas Gaming License

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In the simmering competition to win the Arkansas commercial gaming license allotted for Pope County, the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) declared that Legends Resort & Casino, a vision of Cherokee Nation Entertainment, is the solitary eligible bid. Gambling commissioners confirmed that they’ll now proceed with a thorough examination of the Legends Resort & Casino proposal.

Only two bids were submitted for the much-coveted gaming license within the state of Arkansas—the Legends Resort & Casino proposed by Cherokee Nation Entertainment, which came in at a robust $300 million, and a plan by Gulfside Casino Partnership, a Mississippi-based venture with a vision for their $405 million River Valley Casino Resort. Both designs had set their sights on Russellville.

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However, the Cherokee Nation Entertainment proposal stood out, as it was the only bid that conveyed backing from the Pope County Quorum Court and an endorsement by Pope County Judge Ben Cross.

In an effort to support the Southland and Oaklawn racino racetracks’ ambition to advance into casinos complete with slot machines, table games, and sports betting, Arkansas citizens in 2018 voted favorably on a referendum promoting casinos in Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, and Pope counties. The mandate notably stipulated that any establishment hoping to ensnare a casino license within Jefferson or Pope counties must procure a support letter from the county judge or a resolution from the county quorum court in the intended county of operation.

The ARC declared its decision to exclude Gulfside Casino Partnership from further consideration in a meeting on Wednesday evening. It stated that the proposal for River Valley Casino Resort failed to meet the requisite criteria, including receiving Judge Cross’ endorsement, or acquiring a resolution of backing from the Pope County Quorum Court. When offered a chance to pitch its project to the quorum court the previous week, Gulfside’s proposal met with a lackluster reception and was ultimately voted down.

Despite the setback, Guldside representatives hinted that they’re considering alternative strategies. However, the probability suggests that the excitingly complex narrative surrounding the Pope County casino license is inching toward a resolution six years after the license was first authorized.

As the lone bid that qualified, Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s Legends proposal is now under review by the ARC. Initially, an outside consultant has been commissioned to examine the application. Cherokee Nation Entertainment is also invited to present its project’s comprehensive outline to the ARC in a meeting scheduled for June 27.

Recalling the widespread controversy over the grading that ensued four years ago, presenting both the Legends and Gulfside proposals, ARC reevaluated its scoring metric after accusations of bias arose against a particular commissioner in favor of Gulfside.

Legal complications spiraled out from a previous matter related to whether a former county judge qualified to issue a support letter—a requisite stipulated in the mandate—which further complicated the River Valley proposal. This culminated in a series of court rulings determining that the support of only the seated judge could validate the proposal.

Lastly, the Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled on a case claiming that the Cherokee’s initial application was not in compliance with the bidding rules citing a partnership between the Cherokee Nation Entertainment and a new entity known as Legends Resort & Casino, LLC. The Cherokees promptly rectified this concern in their latest bid by applying solely under Cherokee Nation Entertainment.