The Arkansas Supreme Court has weighed in on a ruling regarding a potential casino in Pope County. Despite it being the highest court in the state, the court’s decision does not bring a final resolution to the matter. The dispute may end up before the court again.
The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with a lower court on Thursday that the state’s gaming regulators erred when they granted a license for the casino in 2021. However, that act merely sets up the entire chain of events to possibly play out again.
Supreme Court upholds lower court’s ruling in Pope County casino dispute
In January, Pulaski County Judge Tim Fox ruled that the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) violated the state’s constitution in granting a license to operate a casino in Pope County to Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) and Legends Resort & Casino.
The plaintiff in the dispute, Gulfside Casino Partnership, had been the original holder of the license. Earlier litigation voided that licensure award, though, and the ARC subsequently granted it to the CNB and Legends. In its complaint, Gulfside argued that the constitution does not provide for granting the license to two parties.
Fox agreed and according to an article by Andrew DeMillo of the Associated Press, so did five of the seven justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court. Thus, for the moment, no one holds a license to build and operate the fourth casino that Arkansas voters authorized in 2018.
That status quo should eventually change. It might be overly optimistic to expect the proceedings to be any less controversial than they have been up to this point.
The high-stakes battle over Arkansas casino license will likely continue
The drama over this license has already included a second voter referendum. An ethics complaint against Fox has also been part of the court proceedings. Now, the ARC will step back into the fray.
DeMillo reports that the ARC will re-open the application window for the Pope County license. The CNB will be among the bidders. So will Gulfside. At this time, it’s uncertain if there will be other contenders.
If there is any doubt about whether CNB and Gulfside are willing to exhaust every possible avenue to secure the license, the track record should end those doubts. After Gulfside lost its license, parties material to that partnership supported a voter referendum to remove Pope County from the list of casino sites.
In addition, Gulfside filed an ethics complaint against Fox to hasten his decision. As the CNB already owns the land that they expect to build the casino on, they are heavily committed to the project already.
Therefore, either party or both could challenge the ARC’s third award of this license. Such a challenge could end up back in Little Rock before the seven justices of the state’s Supreme Court again.
The only certain thing is whether a casino will be built in Pope County, Arkansas, and who will get to build it should that occur is far from settled.