Arkansas Attorney General Assists Gaming Regulators on Pope Casino

Posted on: January 22, 2024, 01:13h. 

Last updated on: January 23, 2024, 11:04h.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin’s (R) office will assist the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) in determining how to resolve the ongoing legal saga surrounding the unissued Pope County casino license.

Arkansas attorney general Pope casino license
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin will interject in the ongoing legal dispute surrounding the casino license in Pope County. Griffin is sending state attorneys to help the Arkansas Racing Commission resolve the matter. (Image: KATV)

The Arkansas Supreme Court (ARC) earlier this month refused to consider an appeal from the Cherokee Nation Businesses. The company, owned by the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, was contesting a lower court judge’s ruling that found the ARC to have erred in issuing the license for the Cherokee’s planned project in Russellville, called the Legends Resort & Casino, which would be the county’s lone gaming concession.

The state court system determined the Cherokees violated bidding rules established by the November 2018 statewide gaming referendum. Voters passed it to allow commercial casinos in four counties — Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, and Pope — by applying in partnership with a newly formed entity called Legends Resort & Casino, LLC.

Despite the Cherokees fully owning the Legends LLC, Pulaski County Judge Tim Fox said the referendum allowed ARC to only consider competitive bids from single entities that demonstrated proficiency in operating commercial casinos. Along with applying as multiple entities, Fox said Legends has no experience running a casino and was therefore disqualified.

AG Steps In

During ARC’s meeting on Friday, Chair Alex Lieblong told his fellow commissioners that staff from Griffin’s office on Wednesday, January 24, will present legal clarification to the racing and gaming regulators. Lieblong says the meeting will be educational, and no vote on the county license will be held.

What I would look like is for everybody to just listen and ask questions if you want, but then give time to think about it before we go forward because then you are going to get hit from all the other sides,” Lieblong said, as first reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The the legal ruling last year and the state Supreme Court upholding the decision were major setbacks for the Legends’ development. The Cherokees were seemingly deemed the only qualified bidder for the concession through a separate legal case.

The Cherokees contested in state court that the lone other bidder for the Pope casino permit — a company called Gulfside Casino Partnership, headquartered in Mississippi, that owns and operates two riverboats there — also violated the 2018 referendum rules because they failed to secure the endorsement of either the sitting Pope County judge or Pope County Quorum Court.

Casey Castleberry, an attorney for Gulfside, said recently that the company remains in pursuit of the Arkansas casino license. It is awaiting clarification from the Racing Commission about its next competitive bidding round.

Legends Pitch

The Cherokees have proposed building a $300 million casino resort with 50,000 square feet of gaming space, with 1,200 slot machines, 32 table games, and a sportsbook. The resort would be highlighted by a 200-room hotel with a spa, several restaurants and bars, 15,000 square feet of event space, a resort pool, and an outdoor music venue.

The destination is projected to draw 1.1 million visitors annually and have a 10-year economic impact of more than $3.15 billion. Legends Casino & Resort, the Cherokees add, would employ about 1,750 people, but support more than 21,000 jobs in Pope County and the surrounding communities via direct and indirect employment.

If the project eventually succeeds in securing the Pope County gaming license, the Cherokees plan to bring on Legends Hospitality as a strategic partner in the resort’s operations. Legends is coowned by billionaire Jerry Jones, an Arkansas native and owner of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.