Cherokee Nation says legal challenges at Arkansas ‘Hail Marys’ casino
Posted on: August 29, 2022, 03:46h.
Last update on: August 29, 2022, 04:50h.
The Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) have been trying to build a casino in Arkansas for nearly half a decade. As the Oklahoma-based tribe nears receiving full state license for its Pope County casino, the tribe’s economic arm says the remaining legal challenges come down to just “I salute you marie”.
CNB CEO Chuck Garrett appeared before the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council last week to provide an update on the conglomerate’s business operations. Garrett said Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston’s decision earlier this month to reject a statewide referendum was the final straw. This action was to eliminate Pope County as a casino host, which was a rival tribe’s goal to keep the Cherokees out of Arkansas.
Arkansas voters in 2018 backed a gambling referendum that allowed only one casino in four counties: Pope, Jefferson, Crittenden and Garland. The Cherokees largely financed the election campaign.
The vote result allowed former racinos of Crittenden and Garland to upgrade to full-scale casinos with slots, table games and sports betting. Two new commercial-from-scratch casino opportunities have been booked for Pope and Jefferson.
Jefferson partnered with the Quapaw Nation, also from Oklahoma. Local Pope officials had initially agreed to trade his playing opportunity to the Cherokees. But legal chaos ensued, which significantly stalled CNB’s plan to build a $225 million destination called Legends Resort & Casino in Russellville.
Marathon, not a race
Garrett told the Cherokee Tribal Council that the CNB’s mission to open a casino in Arkansas was “a test of endurance.”
We’ve been in the trenches hand-to-hand for four years. It really was quite a test of tenacity. Garret explained.
A myriad of problems tangled the CNB plan. First, the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC), which was originally responsible for issuing the four casino licenses, discovered that one of its members had been biased while reviewing two proposals for the Pope County license.
Evaluating CNB’s pitch and a separate bid from Mississippi-based gaming company Gulfside Casino Partnership, ARC Commissioner Butch Rice gave the Gulfside plan a perfect score of 100/100. That’s while rating the CNB pitch at just 29/100. Rice’s drastic scoring differential alone tipped the ARC’s overall score in Gulfside’s favor.
After months of legal deliberations, officials from the office of Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge helped the CRA determine that the Cherokees were the legitimate winners of the tender for the Pope casino concession.
The legal controversy did not end there.
Arkansas gaming law required that casino offers could only be submitted with the approval of the “county judge”. 2018 Pope County Judge Ed Gibson lent a letter of support to the Gulfside plan. But current Pope County Judge Ben Cross, who succeeded Gibson and took over as the county’s top official in 2019, supports the CNB program.
The Arkansas Supreme Court finally agreed to take up the case and ruled last November in favor of the Cherokee. The state’s highest court determined that “the” before “county judge” referred to the current sitting judge, not a former county judge.
Both Arkansas racinos have already undergone renovations to become full-scale casinos. Along with Southland Casino and Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, Jefferson’s newest casino, Saracen Casino Resort, is up and running.
Garrett hopes to conclude two remaining legal challenges against Legends and begin construction soon. He’s not overly concerned that the lawsuits, which must contend with the Cherokee’s lack of experience running a commercial casino when the tribe has decades of experience running its tribal resorts , have much merit.
“Without going into too much detail about our strategies behind them, let me just say they are Hail Marys. Last time I checked, we have 10 casinos and we’re doing pretty well over the of the past 20 years. I think the court will see through this and we will get clearance in the next few months to move forward,” he concluded.