Court Appoints Judge in Arkansas Casino Annex Lawsuit

Posted on: November 7, 2020, 02:28h. 

Last updated on: November 7, 2020, 03:20h.

Judge Randy Wright has been assigned to handle a lawsuit in Arkansas to block construction of a casino annex in Pope County.

Gulfside Casino
This drawing shows what the Gulfside casino project near Russellville, Arkansas, would look like upon completion. The project has been licensed, but is tied up in court. (Image: KUAR)

The state Supreme Court order on Oct. 27 assigning Wright to the case came after four other Arkansas judges stepped aside. The judges who recused themselves are Dennis Sutterfield, William Pearson, Ken Coker, and Gordon W. “Mack’ McCain Jr., according to court documents. Wright is a circuit judge in Hope, Arkansas.

Cherokee Nation Businesses filed the lawsuit last month in Pope County Circuit Court against Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi and the Arkansas Racing Commission, according to the Associated Press. The commission oversees casino gaming in Arkansas.

Pope County Judge Ben Cross also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. He supported the Oklahoma tribe’s unsuccessful proposal to build a casino and hotel complex.

Gulfside is one of four resorts authorized to operate a full casino in Arkansas after a 2018 public vote in support of gaming expansion. The other three sites already are up and running. They are in West Memphis, Hot Springs, and Pine Bluff. The Gulfside site near Russellville has been licensed, but is tied up in court and is not open. Russellville is northwest of Little Rock, the state capital.

In its October lawsuit, the tribe is seeking to stop Gulfside from opening a 33,400-square-foot casino annex, while building an 80,000-square-foot casino and 500-bed hotel.

Casey Castleberry, a representative for Gulfside, said the casino annex issue should be decided by the Racing Commission, not the courts.

The seven-member Racing Commission has not received an application from Gulfside for the annex, according to the Associated Press.

Active Sportsbooks

When COVID-19 cases spiked in March, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) ordered casinos to close. He allowed them to reopen May 18 at 66 percent capacity with health measures in place.

Since the reopening, two of the three casinos have topped $1 million in monthly sportsbook bets.

The sportsbook at Oaklawn horse track and casino took in more than $1.1 million in bets in September, according to the Racing Commission’s most recent numbers.

At Southland Casino, a greyhound track in West Memphis, the sportsbook collected more than $2.3 million in bets during September.

The sportsbook at Saracen Casino in Pine Bluff took in $487,4876 in bets in September. Saracen opened a hotel-casino in October. Pine Bluff is about 45 minutes south of Little Rock in Central Arkansas.

Saracen had been operating in an annex building while the full casino was being constructed. Its annex, which was a truck stop at one time, had been included in the original plan submitted to the Racing Commission for approval. The new $350-million resort has 2,000 slot machines, 36 table games, a sportsbook, and a poker room.

Notorious Hot Springs

Hot Springs has a storied gambling history. Casinos operated illegally but openly for decades in the town until authorities shut the resorts down in the 1960s. Hot Springs is about an hour southwest of Little Rock.

Notorious underworld figures such as Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel vacationed in the Spa City.

Casino gambling now is allowed only at the historic Oaklawn racetrack.

The town’s revival includes the announcement this week that actor Kevin Costner plans to open a movie and music museum in Hot Springs, according to the Sentinel-Record newspaper.