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State panel OKs casino license for Cherokee Nation

by The Associated. Press | November 13, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.


LITTLE ROCK -- An Arkansas panel voted Friday to issue a casino license to the Cherokee Nation, voiding an earlier license to a competitor that the state Supreme Court said didn't meet the state's qualifications.

The Arkansas Racing Commission voted 3-2 to issue the license to build and operate the casino in Pope County, the last of four casinos voters authorized under a 2018 constitutional amendment, to Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation Businesses.

The move came after the state Supreme Court last month ruled that the endorsement required for a casino license must come from elected local officials in office at the time of the application. The Cherokee Nation Business proposal had the backing of Pope County's judge.

The commission voided an earlier license that had been issued to a competing casino applicant, Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership, which submitted its application in 2019 with a letter of support from Pope County's former judge.

Cherokee Nation said it hoped to move closer toward building the casino.

"We are eager to put forth our large-scale development plans to the Russellville Planning commission, and ultimately, for litigation to come to an end so that we can proceed with construction," Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Chuck Garrett said in a statement.

But Gulfside wasn't ready to concede citing the pending court cases and questioned whether Legends Resort and Casino LLC -- the company that was set up by the Cherokee Nation -- qualified for the license. Cherokee Nation operated 10 casinos in Oklahoma.

"Legends has no casino gaming experience and, therefore, is not a qualified applicant," Lucas Rowan, Gulfside's attorney, said in a statement. "This issue is pending in circuit court, and we expect it will be resolved through the legal system."

Voters in 2018 approved an amendment requiring the state to allow four casinos. Since then, casinos have opened at racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis, and in Pine Bluff.


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