Cherokee Nation Resubmits Casino Application to Arkansas Racing Commission

Posted on: June 6, 2024, 02:24h. 

Last updated on: June 6, 2024, 10:21h.

The Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) fielded its second and presumably final bid for the commercial casino license it plans to issue for Pope County later this year.

Cherokee Nation Pope County Arkansas casino
A rendering of the Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s proposed $300 million casino resort in Arkansas’ Russellville. Called Legends Resort & Casino, the gaming development is currently the only qualified bid before the Arkansas Racing Commission. (Image: Cherokee Nation Entertainment)

Just days after an entity based in Mississippi called Gulfside Casino Partnership publicized its $405 million plans for a project called River Valley Casino Resort, state gaming officials reported its first qualifying submission.

It comes from Cherokee Nation Entertainment, a subsidiary of Cherokee Nation Businesses, the commercial business conglomerate of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation Entertainment on Wednesday formally presented ARC with its revised plan for a casino resort in Russellville.

For the past five years, we have been laying the groundwork for this one-of-a-kind, shovel-ready commercial casino resort and becoming ingrained in the local community,” Chuck Garrett, CEO of Cherokee Nation Entertainment, said in a release.

Known as Legends Resort & Casino, the more than $300 million investment blueprint includes 50,000 square feet of gaming space with 1,200 slot machines, 32 live dealer table games, a poker room, and a sportsbook. The resort would be highlighted by a 200-room hotel, resort-style pool, luxury spa, meeting and conference space, live entertainment, and several restaurants and bars.

What’s in a Name?

ARC last year, following several legal challenges, awarded the Pope County casino license to the Legends developers. However, an appeal filed by Gulfside successfully challenged whether the Cherokee plan violated state bidding rules.

The Arkansas Supreme Court last fall ruled that the Cherokees ran afoul of the state’s bidding rules because it applied as a partnership. The Cherokee’s 2023 application listed Cherokee Nation Businesses and a newly formed entity called Legends Resort & Casino, LLC, as the developers.

The casino bidding rules require that developers apply as single entities and not as part of partnerships or consortiums. Bidding firms must also be able to demonstrate gaming experience, something the Legends LLC lacked.

For the third Pope County bidding round, the Cherokees applied as a single unit as Cherokee Nation Entertainment. The company is the immediate parent organization to the tribe’s Oklahoma casinos.

Judicial Support 

Another condition of the ARC application requirements as dictated through the state’s 2018 amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that authorized a casino each in the counties of Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, and Pope is that bids be accompanied by a letter of support from the county’s current judge or quorum court. As of now, only the Cherokee plan has such backing with Pope County Judge Ben Cross and a majority of the Pope County Quorum Court issuing letters of support for the Legends project.

We are honored to have garnered the required support of Pope County leaders, purchased 325 acres of land, and obtained a Large-Scale Development permit from the City of Russellville. With the application now submitted, we are eager to present our plans and vast experience to the Arkansas Racing Commission and earn the state’s final casino license,” Garrett added.

The Gulfside scope is a $405 million undertaking with a 70,000-square-foot casino featuring 1,500 slots, 50 table games, a sportsbook, and a 300-room hotel. Gulfside will make its appeal to the Pope County Quorum Court on Wednesday to ask the panel to issue a second letter of support to qualify its project for ARC review.

If a simple majority isn’t realized on the 13-judge quorum court, only the Legends bid will warrant consideration by the state gaming regulatory agency and bring the Pope County casino license saga to a close after nearly six years.