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State to issue Pope County casino license to Cherokee Nation Businesses

by Jeannie Roberts | November 12, 2021 at 2:35 p.m.
A roulette wheel spins in 2018 at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)

The Pope County casino license will be awarded to Cherokee Nation Businesses of Oklahoma by the close of business Monday, the Arkansas Racing Commission ruled Friday afternoon.

The meeting, which was held with the majority of the members participating by telephone, lasted less than 30 minutes, but was fraught with lengthy moments of silence when asked for comments or a motion to vote on the issue.

In the end, Commissioner Steve Landers made the motion with a second by Commissioner Danny East to void the license originally issued to Mississippi casino operator Gulfside Casino Partnership, refund the $250,000 deposit then cash Cherokee Nation Businesses' deposit check and issue the license by the end of the work day Monday.

The motion passed with three yes votes from Commission Chairman Mark Lamberth and commissioners Landers and East; two no votes from commissioners Michael Post and Bo Hunter; and recusals from commissioners Alex Lieblong and Butch Rice.

"It's time to get on with the business at hand and I think we need to make sure that this process comes to a completion," Lamberth said.

The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a mandate Nov. 9, formalizing its Oct. 21 opinion that said Gulfside was not a qualified applicant and essentially knocked Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi out of the running for Pope County’s sole casino license.

The Racing Commission previously awarded the license to Gulfside, but the issue became entangled in court.

The Cherokees are proposing to build Legends Resort & Casino LLC., a $225 million casino and resort with 1,100 slot machines, 32 table games and 200 hotel rooms near Russellville, off Hob Nob Road.

Cherokee Nation Businesses received local endorsements from Pope County officials after promising a $38 million economic development agreement that would be allocated to various municipalities, fire protection districts and agencies determined by local elected officials.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported how some commissioners voted on the motion to give Cherokee Nation Businesses a casino license.

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