July 21, 2024

Gulfside Casino Partnership alleges in a lawsuit filed in Arkansas’ Pulaski County Circuit Court that state officials colluded with a rival bidder regarding a gaming license earmarked for Pope County.

Gulfside Casino Partnership Arkansas Pope County
Members of the Arkansas Racing Commission and Cherokee Nation Entertainment talk after the Pope County casino license was awarded to the company. A lawsuit from rival bidder Gulfside Casino Partnership challenges whether the issuance was just. (Image: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Mississippi-based Gulfside is controlled by riverboat pioneers Terry Green and Rick Carter. The businessmen own the Island View Casino in Gulfport.

Gulfside alleges in its complaint that Pope County Judge Ben Cross and the Pope County Quorum Court used coercive tactics to handpick the winner of the Pope County casino license. The 2018 ballot referendum statewide voters approved that authorized a single casino license in Pope County came with the requirement that applicants obtain a letter of support from the county judge or a resolution of support from the county quorum court to qualify for consideration before the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC).

The lawsuit claims that Cross and a majority of the Pope Quorum Court conspired to disqualify Gulfside’s $405 million pitch called River Valley Casino Resort in Russellville to resolve the years-long legal dispute regarding the license.

Lawsuit Claims

Cross and the Pope Quorum Court by a 7-5 vote backed a competing casino bid from Cherokee Nation Entertainment, a subsidiary of Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB), the commercial arm of the Cherokee Nation tribe in Oklahoma. The Cherokees proposed a $300 million casino called Legends Resort & Casino, also in Russellville.

Gulfside was initially deemed the winner for the Pope County casino concession in 2019 based on ARC commissioners’ grading of each bid. ARC later determined that one of its commissioners had a bias in grading the Gulfside plan a perfect 100/100 while only giving 29 points to the Cherokee proposal.

A Cherokee appeal reached the Arkansas Supreme Court, which ruled that Gulfside was not a qualified bidder because its letter of support came from a former county judge — not the current sitting county judge. ARC then gave the license to Legends, but Gulfside successfully appealed on grounds that the Cherokees also violated bidding rules by applying as a consortium and not as a single applicant.

The license was again returned to ARC and another bidding round ensued. Gulfside wrote in its complaint that Cross and the county quorum court conspired to make sure only the Cherokee plan could move forward. Gulfside attorneys say Cross and the quorum court developed an “Economic Development Agreement” with the Cherokees that assured the company with the support of the judge and court in exchange for a $38.88 million “economic development fee” that is to go to Pope County’s “related governmental entities.”  

Judge Cross and the Quorum Court have used their power to issue a letter of support as a way to thwart the Racing Commission’s ultimate authority to select and award the casino gaming license,” the lawsuit declared.

The filing explained that the constitutional amendment voters passed did not limit county judges or county quorum courts from issuing more than one letter or resolution of support.

“The wording of the Amendment and the rules subsequently adopted by the Racing Commission recognizes that there would be multiple casino applicants each with a letter of support,” the lawsuit added.

Declaratory Judgment

Gulfside says it offered the better casino plan for Pope County and a richer economic development fee of $65 million. Compared with the Cherokees’ Legends project, Gulfside’s River Valley proposed 20,000 square feet of more gaming space, 300 more slot machines, 18 more table games, and 100 more hotel rooms.

Despite Gulfside’s proposal being superior in every aspect, because of the CNB EDA’s exclusivity requirement, the Quorum Court and County Judge refused to issue a resolution of support or letter of support to Gulfside,” the complaint continued.

The lawsuit asks the court to void the CNB EDA on grounds that it goes against public policy and to annul Cross’ letter of support and the quorum court’s resolution for the Cherokee bid. The lawsuit additionally asks the court to rescind ARC’s declaration that the Pope County casino license be awarded to Cherokee Nation Entertainment.

The post Gulfside Casino Partnership Sue Arkansas Officials Over Pope County License appeared first on Casino.org.

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