Decision due in casino license lawsuit

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

A Pulaski County circuit judge on Wednesday announced he's close to deciding whether Legends Resort & Casino is constitutionally entitled to the Pope County casino license that it now has.

The question is before Judge Tim Fox on an appeal by Gulfside Casino Partnership, the Mississippi business that wants the license. Gulfside is challenging the state Racing Commission's decision to award the license to Legends in November 2021 despite Gulfside's arguments against the legitimacy of Legends' application. Gulfside claims it was the only applicant to meet the state standards.

Legends, in turn, disputes Gulfside's claims, describing its arguments as relying on an "erroneous interpretation" of the state constitution, which was amended by voters in 2018 to allow casino gaming at four locations around the state.

The Racing Commission is also asking for the appeal to be dismissed, arguing Gulfside doesn't have sufficient grounds to dispute the commission's licensing decision, which means the judge doesn't have the authority to consider the appeal.

At a hearing with the parties' lawyers Wednesday, Fox said he is getting close to a ruling, stating that he wanted to consult with the sides to make sure his final order will allow for an immediate appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Fox has also granted a motion by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which had once sought the Pope County license, to join with Gulfside in challenging the legitimacy of the Legends license. The Cherokee Nation, which also unsuccessfully sought the license, is backing Legends.

CORRECTION: Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox announced on Jan. 4 that he was close to determining whether Legends meets the constitutional requirements to hold the Pope County casino license, in response to claims by Gulfside Casino Partnership that it was the only applicant to meet the state standards. The original version of this story incorrectly stated the possible outcomes from Fox's eventual decision.