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Arkansas Racing Commission finds bias in license scoring, puts off action

by Michael R. Wickline | June 22, 2020 at 1:58 p.m.
FILE — A roulette wheel spins at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla.

Six Arkansas racing commissioners Monday voted to find that fellow commissioner Butch Rice’s scoring of two casino applications for a Pope County casino license was biased to a Mississippi casino company, after Rice disputed that and abstained from the vote.

Then, the seven-member commission delayed a decision on how to proceed by asking the attorney general’s office and representatives of the two applicants — Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership and Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation Businesses — to try to reach agreement on a remedy.

“We should give the two parties a chance to sit down with the attorney general’s office and see if they can come up with some sort of remedy to this, so that it's fair,” said commission chairman Alex Lieblong of Conway.

The commission’s action came after the commission learned its options include excluding Rice’s score from the commission's scoring of the two casino applications on Thursday, having the commissioners score the applications again, or hiring a consultant to review the casino applications.

The commission o Thursday signaled its intent to award the casino license in Pope County to Gulfside, based on its scoring of the two casino applicants.

But Dustin McDaniel, legal counsel for Cherokee Nation Businesses, asked the commission to find that Rice was biased in his scoring. Rice of Beebe gave Gulfside a score of 100, compared to 29 for the Cherokees, and that 71-point difference was the largest among the scores of the commissioners.

The commissioners’ total score was 637 for Gulfside and 572 for Cherokee Nation Businesses.

Rice said he gave higher scores to Gulfside because the company planned to build a larger casino and hotel that would create more jobs and tax revenue in Pope County.

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