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Rules governing final Arkansas casino license permit to move forward

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Rules governing final Arkansas casino license permit to move forward

Jan 30, 2024 | 4:59 pm ET
By Hunter Field
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Rules governing final Arkansas casino license permit to move forward
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Rendering of Legends Resort & Casino in Pope County. (Photo courtesy of Legends Resort & Casino)

Arkansas’ casino oversight board took a step Tuesday toward again trying to issue the state’s fourth and final casino operating license. 

The Arkansas Racing Commission voted to advance a proposed set of rules that will allow it to open a new application period for companies hoping to build a casino in Pope County.

Those rules must be approved by the governor, survive a 30-day public comment period and gain the support of the state Legislature before they can be formally adopted. 

On the most optimistic timeline, the application period couldn’t begin until April, but it could take longer.

Arkansas Racing Commission defers vote on new Pope County casino license process

Commissioners said Tuesday that they hoped the rules and forthcoming permitting process are sound enough to avoid the deluge of lawsuits that have hampered the process for the last five years. 

“We’re trying to get the clearest, widest path forward so they can take the ball down and get it across the goal line,” said Chairman Alex Lieblong.

Once the rules are approved, the commission would open the application period and award the license after scoring the proposals on a variety of criteria.

Arkansans voted to legalize casino gambling through a 2018 ballot initiative. That ratified Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution, permitting four casinos. 

The first two casinos were written into the amendment: the existing racetracks in West Memphis (Southland) and Hot Springs (Oaklawn). 

The third license was issued quickly and without controversy in Jefferson County due to local support for the Quapaw Nation, which opened Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff. 

The Pope County license has been unique with local efforts opposing the casino altogether and multiple casino operators interested in the license.

The Racing Commission has twice awarded the lucrative license — first to Gulfside Casino Partnership, then to Cherokee Nation Businesses/Legends Resort & Casino — only to have the courts intervene to revoke them.

Most recently, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling nullifying the Cherokee license, kicking the matter back to the Racing Commission.

Cherokee Nation Businesses — the holding company of the largest Native American tribe — is still in the most favorable position to receive the Pope County license because it is the only entity with the requisite letter of support from the Pope County judge. 

Still, other applicants have held out hope for an opportunity to make their own pitches to officials in Pope County.