Arkansas Casino Backers Claim Poll Finds Support for Pope County Cherokee Resort

Posted on: May 10, 2022, 11:14h. 

Last updated on: May 10, 2022, 12:31h.

Backers of the Arkansas casino project earmarked for Pope County say a recently conducted poll finds new support for the project. A $225 million gaming development is to be located just off Hob Nob Road at Interstate 40 in Russellville.

Arkansas casino Legends Pope County Cherokee
A rendering of the Legends Resort & Casino in Pope County, Arkansas. A new poll finds majority support for the $225 million development. (Image: Cherokee Nation Businesses)

The Arkansas Tourism Alliance is a nonprofit backed by the Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB), the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s wholly-owned commercial gaming subsidiary. The alliance commissioned Impact Research to probe current attitudes towards the proposed venture in Pope County, called Legends Resort & Casino.

Pollsters found that likely voters in Pope County today favor building a casino destination by a 15-point margin. Impact researchers reported that 54% of respondents said they endorse the commercial casino proposal, while only 39% said they reject such an endeavor. In Russellville, 60% said they support the casino.

Arkansas legalized four commercial land-based casinos in 2018. The authorization came through a November election ballot referendum that amended the Arkansas Constitution to allow commercial gambling.

The 2018 vote allowed the state’s two former racinos — Southland and Oaklawn — to become full-scale casinos with Las Vegas-style slot machines, table games, and sports betting. The law additionally authorized two entirely new casino properties, one each in the counties of Jefferson and Pope.

No Casino Blessing From Pope

Arkansas’ casino referendum in the fall of 2018 passed with a little more than 54% of the statewide vote. The voter approval allowed the racinos to quickly pivot into casinos.

Officials in Jefferson soon after moved forward with a casino project in conjunction with the Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma. The Quapaws opened the Saracen Casino Resort in October of 2020.

After many scandals involving competing proposals for the casino opportunity in Pope, county officials want to proceed with the Cherokee-funded project. But a campaign mounted by “Fair Play for Arkansas” — an anti-casino group — has largely stalled the $225 million undertaking.

Pope County was one of the 11 counties in 2018 that rejected the casino amendment. Some 64 other counties backed the gaming question.

“Fair Play for Arkansas” has contended that the state shouldn’t force a casino on a county whose residents oppose gambling. The organization is leading a legislative push to place another ballot referendum before voters this fall to eliminate Pope County as a designated county where commercial gambling is permitted.

Changing Opinions?

This week’s poll from the Arkansas Tourism Alliance argues such opinions have changed.

It’s not often voters admit to changing their minds, but this data clearly shows a significant shift in sentiment since 2018, with a majority of Pope County voters now in favor of the casino resort project,” said Zac McCrary of Impact Research.

“Moreover, this data explicitly contradicts the current petition effort that seeks to eliminate the Pope County casino license on the sole premise that local voters don’t want it in their community,” McCrary added.

The Cherokee tribe is partnered with Legends Hospitality, a venture formed in 2008 by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, for the Pope County casino. The partnership plans to begin construction this summer in Russellville.