The Cherokee Nation-backed casino contender on Wednesday called for the Arkansas Supreme Court to block a lower-court ruling that disqualifies it from obtaining a casino license in Pope County.
"Unlawful" and "issued without jurisdiction" is how lawyers for Legends Resort and Casino LLC, in the petition to the high court, described the July 2 ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox.
If allowed to stand, Fox's decision leaves only one candidate available to receive the Pope County license: Gulfside Casino Resort of Mississippi.
According to Legends' lawyers, Fox ruled with no evidence -- and with no warning about what he was going to do -- when he determined that Legends does not meet state constitutional requirements for casino gambling experience, attorney Scott Richardson wrote in the six-page motion on behalf of Legends and its parent company, Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC.
Legends has already been recognized as qualified by the Arkansas Racing Commission, but to reach his conclusions, Fox had to ignore the Oklahoma-based Cherokees' "decades of casino gaming experience," which satisfies the casino experience requirement, the motion states. Fox also refused to allow Legends to make further arguments about its qualifications before issuing his order disqualifying the company, the motion states.
"The Circuit Court's orders are erroneous for a legion of reasons, including an inaccurate reading of Amendment 100, but the court had no jurisdiction to issue an order on applicant qualifications in the first place," since the commission has already recognized Legends as a qualified applicant, wrote Richardson, a partner in the Little Rock firm McDaniel, Wolff & Benca.
With the Racing Commission facing its self-imposed July 31 deadline to award the license, and with the potential for commissioners to act on Fox's ruling within the next 10 days, the Supreme Court should stay the ruling immediately until Legends' case can be fully briefed for the high court justices, the motion states.
If the court is not willing to put the Fox ruling on hold, Legends hopes the justices will grant an expedited review of the issues, according to the pleadings.
The issue of Legends' qualifications arose in circuit court July 2 when Legends and Cherokee Nation Businesses petitioned Fox in their attempt to join ongoing litigation that saw Gulfside seeking a court order forcing the Racing Commission to give Gulfside a casino license.
Cherokee lawyers wanted to argue against the Gulfside position but needed Fox's permission to intervene. Gulfside opposed the request to intervene in its case, arguing, in part, that the Legends parent company had its license application denied in May 2019. Legends didn't even exist then, since it was not incorporated until September, Gulfside lawyers noted.
Fox's ruling July 2 barred Legends from joining the Gulfside litigation, with the judge's finding that Cherokee Nation Businesses does not meet the standard for a casino applicant. The judge subsequently disqualified Legends for an absence of casino experience.
Amendment 100 of the state constitution, approved by voters in 2018, allowed the expansion of casinos in Hot Springs and West Memphis and allowed a new casino in Jefferson and Pope counties. The Jefferson County casino is under construction; the Racing Commission has yet to issue a license for Pope County, where the idea of having a casino has been hotly debated.