Arkansas Casino Proposal Selected for Pope County, But With Controversy

Posted on: June 20, 2020, 12:33h. 

Last updated on: June 22, 2020, 08:58h.

Two Arkansas casino proposals were submitted for Pope County, Arkansas, and last Thursday, the Arkansas Racing Commission picked the winning bid. It comes from Gulfside Casino Partnership, a gaming company based in Mississippi.

Arkansas casino Pope County Gulfside
Seen here is a rendering of River Valley, the last of four Arkansas casino projects coming to the state. (Image: River Valley Casino)

Gulfside Casino Partnership, owned by Terry Green and Rick Carter, was picked by the racing commission over a bid from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. The seven commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of Gulfside.

The racing commissioners assigned each of the two projects a score of up to 100 points. “Experience conducting casino gaming” was worth 30 points, “time for opening casino” 10 points, “proof of financial stability and access to financial resources” 30 points, and “detailed summary of proposed casino” 30 points.

The tally came out 637-572 in favor of Gulfside.

Green and Carter’s Arkansas casino blueprint calls for a $254 million investment. The resort will feature a 500-room hotel, 80,000 square feet of gaming space with 1,900 slot machines and 90 table games, and 1,695 permanent jobs with an annual estimated payroll of $60.5 million – or $35,700 per position.

The project, called River Valley Casino, is being planned for Russellville, Arkansas.

The Cherokee plan was a $225 million investment with a 200-room hotel, a 50,000-square-foot casino with 1,200 slots and 32 table games. The project would have created 1,000 jobs, but the tribe didn’t specify an annual payroll.

Contentious Vote

The Arkansas Racing Commission’s vote to pick Gulfside over the scheme from the Cherokee Nation wasn’t without controversy. Attorneys representing the tribe questioned Commissioner Butch Rice’s vote, which he scored a perfect 100 for Gulfside, but only awarded 29 points to the Cherokee plan.

Rice’s 71-point gap was the difference in the overall 637-572 vote.

Dustin McDaniel, legal counsel for Cherokee Nation Businesses, wrote Attorney General Leslie Rutledge regarding “an obviously biased commissioner” who possessed the power to “overturn the will of the rest of the Commission.”

Despite the AG’s office expressly warning Commissioners not to engage in arbitrary, capricious, or biased scoring, Commissioner Rice in fact single-handedly overturned the score given by the rest of the Commission,” McDaniel stated. “We anticipate both an administrative appeal and a request for injunctive relief from a court. This is a uniquely significant state decision, and such an egregious act of bad faith should not be allowed to control it.”

Rice denied any bias in his voting, simply saying that Gulfside is a “better fit.”

Green and Carter are credited as pioneers of Mississippi’s riverboat gaming industry. They were inducted into the Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Association’s inaugural Hall of Fame class in May of 2018.

They operated Copa Casino in Gulfport, Mississippi, until its destruction in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. After gaming regulations were eased to allow riverboats to move inland, so long as they remain within 800 feet of their original barges, Green and Carter opened Island View Casino in September of 2006.

Arkansas Casinos

Arkansas voters decided to allow full-scale commercial casinos through a 2018 constitutional amendment. The state’s two racetracks – Oaklawn and Southland – have both transitioned into casinos with slots and table games.

Pope and Jefferson counties were each awarded one casino license through the referendum. Jefferson is moving forward with a $350 million casino resort being developed by the Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma. The commercial venue is called Saracen Casino Resort, and will feature a 300-room hotel, 80,000-square-foot casino with 2,300 slots and 50 table games, conference center, spa, and museum and cultural center.