Arkansas Racing Commission Reconsiders Two Proposals for Pope County Casino

Posted on: April 17, 2020, 08:27h. 

Last updated on: April 17, 2020, 12:02h.

The Arkansas Racing Commission will give a second look at two applications for a planned gaming property in Pope County several months after they were both rejected.

Arkansas Racing Commission Second Look
Alex Lieblong, chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission, and his fellow commissioners moved forward this week with two applications for a casino license in Pope County. (Image: Arkansas Business)

Applications from Gulfside Casino Partnership and Cherokee Nation Businesses/Legends will both get reviewed following a decision this week by the racing commission. An independent firm will rank the applications based on numerical scores, KATV reported, and then the evaluation will be presented to the commissioners.

The two organizations were among the five businesses which applied for casino licenses for Pope County. Last June, all were rejected by the racing commission.

Except for Gulfside, the applications did not come with required recommendations from local officials. But Gulfside’s recommendations were written by officials who were in office when the recommendations were signed, but later left office. So they were inappropriate, the racing commission had ruled.

Judge Fox Ruled in Case

Also, state officials apparently will not appeal a recent Gulfside-related ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox. Fox sent the application back to the commission and told the commissioners to consider it on its merits, and he ruled that commission requirements on the recommendations were unconstitutional.

The racing commission said Jim Fox, who is an Arizona-based gaming consultant and is apparently not related to the judge, will score the two applications. He is expected to recommend one of the applications to the commission, according to Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Jim Fox’s recommendation is expected before June 30, Hardin told the newspaper. The commission will decide on the license — and commissioners or their representatives are likely to interview officials from the two operations before the final vote.

Last August, Cherokee Nation Businesses’ application got the backing of the Pope County Quorum Court. On Wednesday, the racing commission accepted the Cherokee application, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

One issue in the review process came after Arkansas voters approved Amendment 100 in 2018. It paved the way for the single casino in Pope County, a single casino in Jefferson County, and approved expanded gaming at racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis.

Under the amendment, the applications need endorsements by local officials. The amendment did not say when endorsements had to be made, the Democrat-Gazette said.

Both Applicants Confident About Racing Commission Decision

“We remain firm in the belief that we are the best choice for Pope County and for Arkansas, with 500 more permanent jobs and $10 million more in annual gaming tax revenue, all kept in-state,” said Lucas Rowan, an attorney representing Gulfside. He was quoted by the Democrat-Gazette, following the commission’s decision. “We look forward to continuing to make the strong case for why we should receive the casino license.”

Chuck Garrett, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses, was additionally quoted by the Democrat-Gazette. “We absolutely welcome the opportunity to have our company, its history, and our application for Legends Resort and Casino Arkansas objectively scored and judged.”

“We are confident the choice will be clear, as it has been in Pope County,” Garrett added. “We look forward to earning the Commission’s support on our merits and fulfilling our commitments to Pope County and the State of Arkansas.”