Arkansas Racing Commission Advances One Pope County Casino Application

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View of Donald W. Reynolds Stadium, home of the Arkansas Razorbacks, and John McDonnell Field before a game against the Eastern Illinois Panthers at Razorback Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Wesley Hitt/Getty Images/AFP

The Racing Commission in Arkansas approved Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s application for the Pope County casino license. 

Both Cherokee Nation Entertainment, from Oklahoma, and Gulfside Casino Partnership, from Mississippi, submitted their proposals by the June 11 deadline. However, only the former’s application was accepted. 

In December 2023, Cherokee Nation Entertainment secured endorsements from Pope County Judge Ben Cross and the quorum court. Casino developers had to submit their proposals by June 11, 2024. ​​

Gulfside Application Rejected

Gulfside Casino Partnership’s license application was submitted to the Racing Commission but was subsequently rejected due to the absence of a mandatory local government support letter, as stated by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration officials. The application process required each candidate to submit a $250,000 fee and secure an approval letter or ordinance from either the Pope County Quorum Court or the county judge.

“You have to have a letter of support from the local governing body, either the quorum court or the county judge,” said Scott Hardin, spokesperson for the Arkansas Gaming Commission, told ABC 7 News. “If you don’t have that letter of support, it is simply not considered a qualified application. That is what we saw here. Gulfside did not have that letter of support.”

Churchill Downs, a third party, sent a letter to the Commission expressing interest. However, they also failed to obtain local government approval and did not pay the required $250,000 application fee.

Interviews Are the Next Step in the Application Process

Hardin says the Commission is mandated to grant the Pope County casino license within 30 business days following the closure of the application window (June 11). 

The Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) will interview the executives from Cherokee Nation Entertainment during its next meeting to evaluate their detailed casino license application. Following the review, the commissioners will score the application.

Following the Cherokee Nation’s presentation, the application will get a formal score, and then the commission will vote on granting the official license for the casino.

Even though there have been a lot of legal issues about the Pope County casino since Arkansas allowed casino gambling in 2018, the Commission is expected to approve the casino license soon, unless something surprising happens.

Cherokee Nation Entertainment Relying on Experience

Cherokee Nation Entertainment CEO Chuck Garrett released a statement on the ARC’s vote to KARK news:

“We appreciate the ongoing efforts of the Arkansas Racing Commission and the Attorney General’s office to ensure a smooth process concerning the issuance of the Pope County casino license,” he said.  “As the only qualified applicant, we are eager to stand before the Arkansas Racing Commission, where we will demonstrate Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s more than 30 years of experience in gaming and hospitality, its strong financial position, and plans for a world-class casino resort in Pope County.”

A commission-appointed expert will review the company’s proposal. It will include details on the number of table games and their operational plan, the management structure, and the project’s timeline. After the presentation, the commissioners will score the proposal, aggregate the results, and reconvene to finalize the licensing decision.

We’ll monitor the developments and let you know when a decision is made.