Cherokee Nation casino license nullification upheld by Arkansas Supreme Court

The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a judge’s decision to nullify the casino license granted to the Cherokee Nation by a panel, initiating a new round of applications for the last of four casinos approved by state voters.

In a 5-2 ruling, justices affirmed a Pulaski County judge’s decision to invalidate the 2021 license awarded to Cherokee Nation Businesses and Legends Resort and Casino, a company established by the Cherokee Nation, for the construction of a gambling property in Pope County, Associated Press reported.

Pope County was designated as one of four casino locations permitted under a 2018 constitutional amendment. While casinos have been established in the other three sites, legal disputes have delayed the issuance of the Pope County license.

The justices determined that the 2018 amendment did not grant the commission the authority to jointly issue a license to Legends and Cherokee Nation Businesses. “Nowhere in the text does it allow for joint or dual licensing to more than one applicant,” the court ruled, as per the report. The state is currently reviewing the ruling and preparing for a new round of applications.

“(The Department of Finance and Administration) will be working with the Arkansas Racing Commission to open a new application window in a timely manner,” Trent Minner, administrator of DFA’s Regulatory Division, which includes the Arkansas Racing Commission, said in a statement.

“We will work with the commission to ensure all legal requirements of Amendment 100 are fulfilled and that the process is carried out in compliance with Arkansas law.”

Cherokee Nation Businesses, which had acquired more than 325 acres for the casino project, expressed disappointment with the decision but reiterated its commitment to becoming the casino operator.

“We are fully committed to moving forward and working with local and state officials as we have been for the past five years to build Legends Resort & Casino and bring the much-needed economic growth the community and state deserve,” Chuck Garrett, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses, said in a statement, as per the report.

Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership, a competing applicant, initiated the lawsuit challenging the licenseIn 2020, Gulfside had received a license for the casino, which was subsequently revoked by the state Supreme Court, citing the requirement for endorsement from current elected officials in the area. The Gulfside application had been supported by Pope County’s former judge.

“Just as the Racing Commission selected our superior application in 2020 in a head-to-head with Legends, we look forward to demonstrating again to county leaders and residents how our proposed world-class resort will benefit them and the entire state,” Casey Castleberry, attorney for Gulfside Casino Partnership, said in a statement, as per the AP report.