Lawsuit Filed to Stop Pope County, Arkansas Licensee’s Annex Casino Plans

  • Gulfside Casino Partnership wants to build a smaller casino while its main one is being built
  • Cherokee Nation Businesses claims that the annex was never approved
  • The Arkansas Racing Commission says that Gulfside has not submitted annex plans for approval
  • Gulfside was awarded its license in June; Cherokee unsuccessfully appealed
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Cherokee Nation Businesses has filed a lawsuit to stop Gulfside Casino Partnership from opening a smaller, annex casino while it is waiting for its resort-style casino in Pope County, Arkansas to be built. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Temporary facility during main casino construction

Controversy continues to swirl around the future Pope County, Arkansas casino, as the operator that lost the bid for the Pope license is now trying to stop the winner from opening a temporary casino while the main one is being built. Cherokee Nation Businesses filed suit in Pope County Circuit Court Tuesday morning, saying Gulfside Casino Partnership should not be permitted to open an “annex” casino while it is waiting to build its main resort casino.

Also on the lawsuit as a plaintiff is County Judge Ben Cross. The listed defendants are Gulfside and the Arkansas Racing Commission.

The Racing Commission has not signed off on the annex.

In September, Gulfside submitted a proposal to Russellville city officials to open a 33,400-square-foot casino on property it already owns in the city. It would house 500 slot machines, eight table games, and a restaurant. In the meantime, it would build its planned 80,000-square-foot casino resort. The Racing Commission has not signed off on the annex.

Lawsuit says annex plan wasn’t approved

Cherokee Nation Businesses is essentially arguing that this smaller annex casino was never part of Gulfside’s previously approved plan and should be blocked. It says that the smaller casino was not authorized, was not on any application submitted by Gulfside, and is not even in the same location as the casino that was actually approved. It is calling for Gulfside’s license to be revoked if it goes forward with the annex location.

blocking it “would only serve to stifle future economic growth.”

Casey Castleberry, Gulfside’s attorney, defended the plan, saying that Saracen Casino Resort did the same thing last year while waiting for its Pine Bluff casino to be built. He added that the annex would create hundreds of jobs while the larger casino is under construction, so blocking it “would only serve to stifle future economic growth.”

He added that this should be a decision made by the Arkansas Racing Commission, not the courts.

Commission spokesman Scott Hardin told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that the difference between Gulfside’s annex and Saracen’s is that Saracen did include annex plans in its licensing application. Gulfside did not and therefore would still need Commission approval. It has not sent an annex proposal to the Commission.

Cherokee Nation Business still appears to be holding out hope that Gulfside will have its license stripped. It says that Pope County “deserves a responsible operator” and that its “commitment to Pope County and securing the casino license has never been greater.”

Cherokee has been fighting for months

Arkansas casinos were permitted via a ballot referendum in November 2018. Issue 4, as it was called, granted licenses to Southland Racing Corporation and Oaklawn Jockey Club so they could turn their existing racetracks into full casinos. It authorized two other licenses, one of which ended up with Gulfside for a Pope County development.

The Racing Commission awarded Gulfside its license in June of this year using a scoring process that ended up 637-572 in Gulfside’s favor over Cherokee.

complaining of “arbitrary, capricious or biased scoring”

Cherokee issued a statement to the media, complaining of “arbitrary, capricious or biased scoring,” and a possible biased Commissioner. Judge Cross also expressed his discontent, saying that Cherokee was the Court’s preferred operator.

Cherokee appealed the decision, but was rejected by the Commission by a 3-2 vote. Commission chairman Alex Lieblong recused himself because of the previous bias allegations.