The fight to finish the contest over who’ll win a casino permit to operate a news casino in Pope County intensified yesterday, with the county taking moves to solidify its control of the process over the city of Russellville.
County Judge Ben Cross issued two letters approving different sites for a Cherokee-owned casino — one on unincorporated land outside Russellville and one in the city limits of Dover, just a few hundred yards north of the Russellville city limits.
Russellville, left out of specific benefits in a $38 million economic development package given by the Cherokees to Pope County and assorted governments and nonprofits in the county, has been trying to wrest control with a separate casino review committee, thought to be aligned with the Choctaw tribe’s interest in a casino. By having two county-approved sites, the thinking in Russellville seems to be that the Cherokees can take the two separate proposals to the state Racing Commission before the deadline for applications next week. A Dover site would protect the casino against Russellville’s attempts to exert punishing limits on the casino through extraterritorial planning controls or limits on utility extensions.
The county yesterday also approved building permits for the Cherokee casino contingent on state permit approval.
Russellville has continued to meet on its own, even though it could realize a fat share of casino tax revenue were it to annex unincorporated land. Its city leaders apparently want something more to show specifically for their effort.
This statement was issued by the Cherokee concern:
“We thank the Pope County Quorum Court and County Judge Ben Cross for their proactive and diligent efforts to comply with the Constitution and create jobs and opportunities for economic growth through our project. The permits issued yesterday by the Pope County Planning Commission will ensure that construction and operations for Legends Resort & Casino Arkansas commence upon issuance of the casino license. We also thank Judge Cross for his letters of support. They should moot any remaining litigation issues. We have also received an additional letter of support from Dover Mayor Roger Lee. On Friday, we will submit an amended application to the Arkansas State Racing Commission that includes both the Hob Nob Road and Dover locations. We are excited about the potential opportunities and look forward to continuing our work with elected officials to determine what is best for the county.”
– Chuck Garrett, CEO, Cherokee Nation Businesses
County Judge Cross explained the county’s action in this statement posted on the Rivery Valley Now website.
A court decision has removed the need for a local election on the casino. Still pending is a lawsuit by a casino operator from Mississippi contending it had the requisite local official approval from the county judge in office at the end of 2018.