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Arkansas Casino Development Faces New Legal Challenge

Gulfside Casino Partnership has filed another lawsuit against the Arkansas Racing Commission's decision to award a casino license to Cherokee Nation Entertainment, extending the ongoing legal saga in Pope County, Arkansas.
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Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: Jul 10, 2024

More Uphill battles in Arkansas

Gulfside Casino Partnership (GCP) has once more taken legal action to block the development of a casino in Pope County, Arkansas. This marks the second lawsuit in the past five years, echoing the contentious events that began in 2020. The current dispute, which promises to prolong an already six-year saga, centers around the Arkansas Racing Commission's (ARC) recent decision to award the county's casino license to Cherokee Nation Entertainment (CNE).

GCP's legal challenge arises after the ARC, on June 27, awarded the casino license to CNE. This decision followed the acceptance of CNE's license application on June 12. GCP's application, however, was rejected by the ARC due to the absence of a required letter of support from Pope County officials. The Pope County Quorum Court had previously voted against a similar resolution of support for GCP on June 7, choosing instead to back CNE.

As a result, GCP's lawsuit names the Pope County Quorum Court and Pope County Judge Ben Cross among the defendants. GCP contends that its casino development proposal offered a superior deal for the county and seeks to have the court nullify the resolution of support for CNE. Such a decision would invalidate the ARC's license award to CNE, potentially causing further delays.

 

  1. Repeated Legal Action: Gulfside Casino Partnership (GCP) has filed another lawsuit to block the development of a casino in Pope County, Arkansas, after the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) awarded the license to Cherokee Nation Entertainment (CNE).
  2. License Dispute: GCP's application was rejected by the ARC due to lacking a letter of support from local officials, who instead backed CNE. GCP argues that the county's decision was improperly influenced by financial incentives from CNE.
  3. Ongoing Saga: The legal battles over the Pope County casino license have been ongoing since 2018, with multiple lawsuits and reversals, and the latest lawsuit could further delay the development of the casino.

 

Legal Precedents and Arguments

In its complaint, GCP cites the Arkansas Declaratory Judgment Act and the legal precedent set by Johnson v. Board of Commissioners. GCP argues that the resolution of support for CNE constitutes a contract between Pope County and CNE, facilitated by an Economic Development Agreement that included cash payments to the county.

GCP claims this agreement violates state law, which prohibits county officials from being influenced by financial incentives in their official duties. For GCP's argument to succeed, the Pulaski County Circuit Court must agree that the agreement between Pope County and CNE represents an unlawful attempt to coerce county officials through monetary compensation.

 

Challenges Ahead for GCP

However, GCP faces significant hurdles. The court must accept GCP's premise that the county's decision to support CNE was improperly influenced by promised financial compensation. Defendants could counter that the Quorum Court's decision was based on factors unrelated to financial incentives.

The court's role in this matter is limited to determining whether Pope County officials violated state law in issuing their letter of support to CNE, not to judge the merits of the competing casino proposals. The resolution of this legal dispute will hinge on the court's interpretation of the relevant statutes and precedents.

GCP's ongoing legal battles date back to 2018, when Arkansas voters approved brick-and-mortar casino gaming. In 2019, the ARC initially awarded the Pope County casino license to GCP. However, a lawsuit from CNE blocked the implementation of that license, leading to a reversal and a protracted legal struggle. The Arkansas Supreme Court invalidated CNE's license in January 2024, prompting the ARC to reopen the license application process in May 2024.

As GCP's latest lawsuit unfolds, the outcome remains uncertain. The case continues to reflect the complex and contentious nature of casino development in Pope County, with no clear resolution in sight.

 

“Regardless of how that lawsuit proceeds, the saga of a casino in Pope County, Arkansas, remains nowhere near a final resolution.”

 

Conclusion

Regardless of the court's decision, the dispute over the Pope County casino license underscores the ongoing legal and political challenges surrounding casino development in Arkansas. The outcome of GCP's lawsuit will have significant implications for the future of gaming in Pope County, potentially prolonging a saga that has already spanned several years.

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