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Arkansas Casino Facing Familiar Foes In Development Process

Local news outlets around Pope County, Arkansas, could almost republish their reels and stories from four years ago. The events of 2020 and beyond regarding a potential casino within the county are playing out nearly exactly as before.



Gulfside Casino Partnership has again filed a lawsuit to block the development of such a casino after a failed attempt to be the developing party. If successful, the process that is already six years in the making could see further delays.



Gulfside Casino Partnership disputes casino license again



For the second time in the past five years, Gulfside Casino Partnership (GCP) has levied a lawsuit 1 regarding a potential casino in Pope County, Arkansas. For the second time in the same time period, the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) did not award a license for that opportunity to GCP.



After accepting the license application of Cherokee Nation Entertainment (CNE) on June 12, the ARC voted on June 27 to award the license to CNE. GCP had also submitted an application but the ARC did not accept it, stating that it lacked a requisite letter of support for its plans from Pope County officials.



The Pope County Quorum voted down 2 a similar resolution of support for GCP on June 7. Because of the decision to grant such support to CNE only, the Pope County Quorum Court and Pope County Judge Ben Cross are among the defendants in CGP’s lawsuit.



GCP argues in its complaint that its development plans for the casino 3 represented a better deal for People County. As relief, GCP is asking the Pulaski County Circuit Court to void the resolution of support from Pope County.



That would effectively nullify the ARC’s act of awarding the license to CNE, as the Arkansas constitution requires such local support for casino licensees. It would also create a further delay in a drama that is already six years in the making. Already, there is a feeling of déjà vu.



History repeating itself in Pope County



GCP has been involved in Pope County since voters across Arkansas approved brick-and-mortar casino gaming in 2018. The ARC actually awarded the license for the Pope County casino to GCP in 2019.



A lawsuit from CNE blocked the implementation of that license and the resulting process reversed that award. Turnabout became fair play, as GCP also levied a lawsuit to try to undo that course of events.



The ultimate end of all the legal wrangling came to the Arkansas Supreme Court invalidating CNE’s license in January 2024. As a result, the ARC opened a new license application period in May 2024.



That brought the events to the dispute over the ARC’s second awarding of the Pope County license to CNE and the July 2024 lawsuit against the Pope County quorum. GCP’s case relies on the court’s acceptance of a couple of arguments.



GCP’s argument for the court to step in



To substantiate its case that the Pope County quorum and Judge Cross broke the law in their awarding of a letter of support for CNE and that the court should intervene, GCP’s complaint names the Arkansas Declaratory Judgment Act and Johnson v. Board of Commissioners as legal precedent.



GCP’s complaint argues that the resolution of support for CNE represents a contract between Pope County and CNE. To support that argument, the complaint states that the Economic Development Agreement between those parties was awarded “exclusively to CNB (Cherokee Nation Businesses) or an entity designated by CNB (CNE in this case) in exchange for cash payments to the County.”



The problem with that, in GCP’s view, is that the Act holds that “the discretion of the County Judge and Quorum Court cannot be bought, to the exclusion of all other interested operators, with funds denominated ‘Economic Development’ funds.” Whether that argument will prevail depends heavily on the Pulaski County court’s perspective, however.



GCP faces tall order in one aspect



For its argument to hold up, GCP needs the court to accept its premise that the agreement between Pope County and CNB is “an effort to coerce county officials to exercise a constitutional duty in a particular way through the payment of money for the public benefit.” A possible counterargument against that premise is quite simple.



Counsel for the defendants might argue that the county’s decision to grant a letter of support only to CNB was not because of the financial renumeration promised in the agreement but for other reasons. Put another way, GCP can’t substantiate the intent of the members of the Pope County quorum that voted against supporting GCP.



That may lead to a conversation of the merits of GCP’s proposal, with counsel for GCP arguing that GCP’s bid was at least equal to if not superior to CNE’s, so the only possible explanation for denying support to GCP was a bias against GCP motivated by CNB’s promised compensation. However, that may stray too far from the court’s role in the dispute.



The Pulaski court does not have jurisdiction to dictate to officials in Pope County which parties they may or may not support for gaming licenses. The court’s role is not to decide which bid, if either, is superior.



The issue before the court is simply whether those officials violated state law in the issuance of a letter of support to CNE. That will depend on the Pulaski court’s reading of precedent and the statute. Regardless of how that lawsuit proceeds, the saga of a casino in Pope County, Arkansas, remains nowhere near a final resolution.



Sources


Gulfside Casino Partnership files lawsuit against Cherokee Nation Businesses ︎ Pope County Quorum Court rejects Gulfside Casino resolution ︎ Gulfside Casino Partnership proposes building a $405 million facility in Pope County ︎

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