As 2023 begins, many Arkansasans might have forgotten that they technically authorized four casinos in 2018 instead of the three they currently have available. The drama over a Pope County casino might soon have some degree of resolution, though.
A state court should render a decision soon on whether the current owner of the license can start developing its intended gaming facility in Arkansas. That decision will likely not be the last word, however.
And further litigation could mean many more months of no activity on the ground in the county.
The latest in the Pope County casino story
This narrative starts with that 2018 casino referendum in Arkansas but spans over the nearly five years since to include two different tribal gaming authorities, another failed referendum, and ethics complaints.
At the current stage, it’s a fight between the current holder of the license and the former license holder in state court.
According to Hunter Field of the Arkansas Advocate, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox will soon issue his decision on whether Legends Resort and Casino can move forward. That entity is a holding of Cherokee Nation Businesses.
Contesting that action is the Gulfside Casino Partnership. They were the first recipient of the license to erect a casino in Pope County.
That is a business interest of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Earlier litigation resulted in Gulfside losing that license and the Arkansas Racing Commission gave the license to Legends instead.
Gulfside quickly challenged thereafter and that has brought the story to the point of awaiting a ruling from Judge Fox. Regardless of how Judge Fox rules, though, his decision could merely be another footnote in the drama.
What Fox’s ruling could mean
Should Fox reject Gulfside’s argument that Legends is unqualified, it would theoretically pave the way for Legends to begin work on its site. A ruling for Gulfside, on the other hand, could force the Racing Commission to reconsider its license award.
It might not be that simple, however.
For one thing, the vacating of Legends’ license wouldn’t necessarily mean Legends would again receive the license. The license would simply become vacant for the time being. In the meantime, counsel for the Commission would probably pour over state law for guidance on whether to hold a new round of bidding or what other actions might be appropriate.
Additionally, a decision in Legends’ favor could prompt a petition to the Arkansas Supreme Court. A petition for a stay on the actual development of the casino pending an appeal of Fox’s ruling.
If the Court grants that request, Legends would be unable to move forward for the time being.
It seems a foregone conclusion that no matter which way Fox rules, an appeal by the losing side is imminent. The Choctaw Nation appears so determined to see this thing through that it funded a potential vote to bar any casino going up in Pope County at all.
But wait, there’s yet more to this story.
Judge Fox faces ethics complaint
Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times on Thursday reported that Dustin McDaniel, who is an attorney currently representing Legends in this dispute, has filed an ethics complaint against Judge Fox.
Although the text of that complaint is currently confidential, Brantley reports that Legends has grown impatient with Judge Fox and wants a ruling in its favor soon.
It’s an unenviable position for Judge Fox and anyone could argue he never wanted to be in this situation at all. As Brantley points out, Judge Fox has tried to transfer this case out of Pulaski County where he presides, and back into Pope County. It’s fitting since Pope County is where this casino might exist someday.
Regardless of how he rules, this particular lawsuit seems headed for the state Supreme Court. And this is the second time he’s seen litigation on this matter come across his bench.
At this point, there might not be anyone in Arkansas more ready to see the Pope County casino matter resolved.