I still don’t fully understand how Pope County got designated for a casino in the amendment approved by voters in 2018. Nor do I have a clue where the contest for the permit will end.
The short version of where the situation stands: Cherokee Nation Business did the best job of winning over the county political power structure, helped by some $40 million in promised benefits for local projects. Gulfside Casino Partnership, with a little trickery involving an endorsement from politicians no longer in office, has won the battle so far with the state Racing Commission. Many legal challenges still must be sorted out.
One large immediate question is when the Racing Commission will get off the dime and complete the administrative review of the Cherokee challenge of the vote to give the permit to Gulfside. Months will have passed before it gets to that decision, which will result in further legal action by whichever side loses.
Meanwhile, Gulfside is forging ahead. It has made inroads with the Russellville City Council, which was sore at being left out of the Cherokee deal with the county.
Late in September, the Russellville Planning Commission gave Gulfside approval for a 33,000-square-foot casino “annex.” Here’s the letter of approval.
An early-opening annex was not included in the permit granted by the Racing Commission. It was included in the Quapaw plan to open a casino in Pine Bluff. The Quapaw annex was up and running in months, generating profit for the operator and tax revenue for state and local governments. Gulfside says the same thing would apply in Russellville during the long process of building the bigger resort hotel they’ve promised.
Gulfside thinks approval by the Racing Commission of an annex should be routine. But the Cherokees have said, wait a minute. CNB has gone to court to be sure construction doesn’t begin before larger issues are settled.
The Cherokee Nation laid out that thinking in a letter published this weekend in the Russellville newspaper.
Many community members have expressed disappointment and
frustration by Gulfside’s recent bait-and-switch attempt to fast-track a
project that is not authorized under its casino license. A project that is
significantly downsized from what was included in its application and
presentation to the Arkansas Racing Commission – and is not even
located on the same property connected to the original proposed project.
Gulfside thinks its plan is a plus for the community while awaiting the bigger project. And who knows? Maybe that “annex” could be turned into a city facility once the larger project was built.
Still, the only winners so far have been the lawyers.