Arkansas’ Pope County Fields $405M Casino Pitch, Developers Offer $65M Upfront

Posted on: June 2, 2024, 12:20h. 

Last updated on: June 2, 2024, 12:20h.

Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership isn’t folding on its pursuit to build and operate a commercial casino in Arkansas by way of Pope County.

Arkansas Pope County casino Gulfside Cherokee
Gulfside Casino Partnership co-founder Terry Green unveils his $405 million vision for a commercial casino resort in Arkansas’ Russellville on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. The casino bid is one of two submissions seeking support from Pope County officials to qualify for submission to the Arkansas Racing Commission. (Image: ABC7)

Nearly six years after a casino license earmarked for Pope County was authorized by statewide voters through a ballot referendum, the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) is fielding bids for the state’s lone remaining gaming concession that provides slot machines, table games, and sports betting privileges. Gulfside, an entity controlled by riverboat gaming pioneers Terry Green and Rick Carter, last week presented ARC with an updated scope for its River Valley Casino Resort in Russellville.

The $405 million pitch includes a 70,000-square-foot casino with approximately 1,500 slot machines, 50 live dealer table games, a sportsbook, and a 300-room hotel. The resort would feature convention space, several restaurants and bars, an outdoor amphitheater, and a spa and fitness center.

The Gulfside pitch joins one other bid for the Pope casino license.

The Cherokee Nation Businesses, a subsidiary of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, has submitted a $300 million development to ARC for consideration. Dubbed Legends Resort & Casino, the project that also targets Russellville would include 50,000 square feet of gaming with 1,200 slots, 32 tables, sports betting, multiple restaurants and bars, and a 200-room hotel with resort amenities.

Judicial Support Needed 

The 2018 ballot referendum that amended the Arkansas Constitution to permit commercial casino gambling in the counties of Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, and Pope requires that casino bids be accompanied by a letter of support from the targeted county’s current judge or quorum court. Currently, only the Legends plan has such an endorsement.

Pope County Judge Ben Cross and the Pope County Quorum Court both lent their support last year to the Cherokee plan. As ARC reopened bidding for the Pope casino earlier this month, it was presumed that only the Cherokee plan would qualify for review.

The judicial component hasn’t stopped Gulfside. The company says it will seek the county quorum court’s support when it makes its case before the 13-member panel on June 6. Gulfside needs seven judges to support the casino for it to qualify to go before ARC.

To sweeten the deal, Gulfside is offering the county a $65 million upfront payment upon receipt of the license. Along with local tax generation, the company has pledged to direct $2 million annually to the county for economic development purposes.

Cross Unfazed 

Cross says the Gulfside plan shouldn’t be embraced by the quorum court. He certainly won’t be backing the River Valley plan.

I’m satisfied with the relationship that Cherokee Nation Businesses built within the community over the last five years,” Cross explained. “I don’t anticipate issuing any more letters of support.”

Gulfside attorney Casey Castleberry says River Valley, a larger resort undertaking with a richer guarantee for the county, should be backed by the court.

We think that merits consideration,” Castleberry said last week during the resort’s unveiling. “It’s superior, frankly, to anything that’s been offered by any other potential applicant.”

ARC has a June 11 deadline for qualified casino proposals to be submitted.