LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Pope County gaming debate continues after the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to vacate the latest license issued to two companies looking to open a casino.
The majority of the state justices upheld the decision by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Davis Fox that the state racing commission had erred in issuing a casino license to the combined Cherokee Nation Business, LLC and Legends Resort and Casino, LLC.
The decision from the court Thursday held that the license had been issued in violation of amendment 100, meaning that the license was “void and of no effect.”
Gulfside Casino Partnership, the group originally awarded the Pope County license only to have it pulled in October 2021 by the Arkansas Supreme Court, had filed the initial motion against Cherokee and Legends.
The Thursday decision agreed with Fox’s finding that the amendment violation began with issuing a license to include Legends, which had no casino experience.
Justices said a second violation was issuing the license to two entities, Cherokee and Legends, when Amendment 100 requires the license to be issued to a single applicant.
Justices Karen Baker and Shane Womack dissented from the majority decision, citing the state should not be a defendant.
Both sides indicated they would continue their efforts to gain a casino license in the county.
Gulfside attorney Casey Castleberry was pleased with the decision and said his group looked forward to showing why they deserved to be regranted the license.
“We are ecstatic about the Supreme Court’s affirmation of Judge Fox’s ruling that Legends was not a qualified applicant for the Pope County casino license,” he said. “Just as the Racing Commission selected our superior application in 2020 in a head-to-head with Legends, we look forward to demonstrating again to county leaders and residents how our proposed world-class resort will benefit them and the entire state.”
Cherokee Nation CEO Chuck Garrett expressed disappointment with the ruling but added the group was ready to show that its decades-long experience would make them best suited to run the new casino.
“We are disappointed by the decision handed down by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Having the express support of the incumbent county judge, many other local officials and the community, we remain committed to earning the privilege of being the operator of choice for a casino in Pope County,” Garret said. “We will be ready to demonstrate our 30-plus years of experience in gaming and hospitality once the Arkansas Racing Commission and the Arkansas attorneys general office determines the next step in fulfilling Amendment 100.”
Garrett added that his group had already purchased 325 acres in Russellville.
The Department of Finance and Administration regulatory administrator Trent Minner stated Thursday that a window for Pope County casino applications would be opened and a signed supporting letter from local leadership — an issue in previous applications — would remain a requirement for a license application.
“The Department of Finance and Administration’s Regulatory Division is still reviewing the opinion issued by the Arkansas Supreme Court this morning,” Minner said. “DFA will be working with the Arkansas Racing Commission to open a new application window in a timely manner. We will work with the commission to ensure all legal requirements of Amendment 100 are fulfilled and that the process is carried out in compliance with Arkansas law.”
DFA’s Regulatory Division oversees alcohol, tobacco, medical marijuana, gaming, and horse racing in Arkansas.