Rejected applicant sues to stop Pope County casino annex

A roulette wheel spins in 2018 at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)

The rejected applicant for a casino license in Pope County sued on Tuesday to stop Gulfside Casino Partnerships - the winners of the license - from building a casino annex ahead of the completion of a full resort-casino complex.

Attorneys for Cherokee Nation Business filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Pope County Circuit Court against Gulfside and the Arkansas Racing Commission, which awarded Gulfside a casino license in July.

Pope County Judge Ben Cross, who has thrown his support behind the Cherokee’s proposal to build the Legends Resort and Casino, was also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit takes aim at Gulfside’s proposal to open a smaller casino “annex” while building its larger, $254-million proposal for a resort and casino that was approved by the Racing Commission.

“Gulfside is now in the process of unlawfully constructing and operating a temporary annex casino in Pope County, Arkansas that wholly conflicts with its application, its representations to the [Racing Commission], its casino gaming license and the Casino Gaming Rules,” the lawsuit states.

A representative for Gulfside could not immediately be reached for comment after the lawsuit was filed.

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Racing Commission, said in an email this week that Gulfside would need to receive approval from the commission before building a temporary facility not included in its original application. A formal request for such a facility has not been submitted, he said.

“There is nothing prohibiting Gulfside from proceeding with the casino it included in its application although we always anticipated the company that was licensed would hold construction until litigation is complete,” Hardin said in an email.

Legends Resort and Casino is in the process of appealing the Racing Commission’s decision to award the sole casino license in Pope County to Gulfside.

If that administrative appeal is unsuccessful, attorneys for the project said in Tuesday’s lawsuit that they will seek further appeals through the courts.