Hard Rock Arkansas Developer Cries Foul Over Process to Issue Support Letter for Final Casino in State

Posted on: August 11, 2019, 10:34h. 

Last updated on: August 13, 2019, 07:33h.

The developer proposing Hard Rock Arkansas, one of the five groups seeking a casino license in Pope County, Ark., accused government leaders of unfair practices and claimed another proposal will get the county’s support.

Warner Gaming, which operates the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas (above), is trying to build a Hard Rock resort and casino in Arkansas. But company officials now claim local leaders will select another developer’s plan. (Image: AmericanCowboy.com)

The accusation comes as the Pope County Quorum Court, the county’s legislative body, announced a specially called meeting for Tuesday afternoon. The items on the meeting’s agenda include discussion of the Arkansas constitutional amendment allowing Pope County to receive a casino, the review of an unnamed economic development agreement, and a resolution regarding the casino gaming amendment, among other issues.

The Quorum Court meeting takes place two days before the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) holds a meeting where it may take up an appeal of another developer whose bid was among the five rejected by the ARC.

In June, the commission rejected all five proposals for a Pope County casino because none had the support of a current local official. Gulfside Casino Partnership included a letter from the previous county judge, who had supported the initiative. That prompted Gulfside connections to appeal the rejection.

Last November, Arkansas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to allow casino gaming in four counties. While Pope County was one of the chosen counties, its voters rejected the referendum. The county government’s new leadership also voiced opposition to casino gaming in their community.

That appears to have changed.

Meeting Outcome Allegedly Predetermined

On Saturday, an open letter to Pope County citizens was posted on the Hard Rock Arkansas Facebook page. In the letter, representatives from Hard Rock, the casino proposed by Las Vegas-based Warner Gaming, claimed another applicant will receive a letter of support on Tuesday. The company’s portfolio includes two other Hard Rock casinos it operates, including the one in Las Vegas.

Remarkably, we were asked if we could submit our final offer after we were informed that a different operator will be selected,” the letter stated. “This clearly is not what we expected when we started this process.

“We have continually asked for a fair, open and transparent process, and all of the applicants who have spent a significant amount of time and money deserve this. More importantly, the public deserves this. We still welcome the chance to give a formal, public presentation to county officials and be evaluated on the merits of our proposal. Should that opportunity arise, we’ll be the first in line to give our best offer.”

While that letter does not indicate the applicant, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that a representative from the Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce told a reporter the letter would go to the Cherokee Nation Businesses. In addition, the paper also obtained a copy of a letter Bill Warner, CEO of Warner Gaming, sent to Pope County Judge Ben Cross that indicated Cross also told him about the Cherokee selection.

Michelle Shriver, a Warner Gaming spokeswoman, told Casino.org on Sunday the company had no comment on the letter Warner personally sent to Cross.

An attempt to get a statement from a Choctaw spokesperson Sunday was unsuccessful.

Neither Cherokee Nation officials nor Cross could be reached for comment.

Cherokee Partner Has Ties to State

In June, Cherokee Nation announced a partnership with Legends to develop a “world-class entertainment complex” for Pope County. Legends is a company founded in 2008 by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the late George Steinbrenner. Shipping magnate Steinbrenner, who also owned the New York Yankees, died in 2010.

Jones played football at Arkansas and was a co-captain on the Razorbacks’ 1964 championship team.

In addition to bids submitted by Cherokee National Business, Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce, Warner Gaming, and Gulfside Casino Partnership, Pope County also received a bid from Kehl Management.

Casinos have already opened at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Casino Dog Track in West Memphis. Last week, officials from the Downstream Development Authority of the Quapaw Tribe broke ground on a $350 million casino in Pine Bluff. That casino is expected to open next June.