The battle for a casino license in Pope County ain’t over until it’s over.

Developments this week:

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The Arkansas Supreme Court mandate has been issued in the case that decided that the Cherokee Nation, not the Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi, was the only legitimate applicant for a license to operate a casino in Pope County under a 2018 constitutional amendment expanding gambling in Arkansas.

Gulfside has gone back to Circuit Judge Tim Fox, who was reversed on the license issue, to argue in a separate case that, on a corporate technicality, the Cherokee Nation’s application as Legends Resort and Casino was invalid. Its hope is to get the Cherokee application disqualified and throw the process open to new applications from all. That would present a whole new set of problems, should it succeed, because the current Quorum Court in Pope County appears to be anti-casino by anybody and the county judge has been committed to the Cherokee Nation for its promise of almost $40 million in local improvement projects. County approval is the critical first step for any casino applicant.

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The Racing Commission, which regulates casino gambling, has sent word to Commission director Smokey Campbell that he is NOT to begin the process of issuing a license to the Cherokee Nation until the commission meets, despite the Supreme Court mandate. The Commission has no legal matter on which to meet, it has no need to vote and has no ground to block the license at this point. But for some reason it wants to meet and pronounce on the matter before Campbell fulfills his legal responsibility. A meeting is tentatively set for some time Friday. Remember that the Commission, in a disputed process, voted to give the license to Gulfside.

If the situation isn’t shortly resolved, I’d expect the Cherokee Nation to seek a court order making it clear the Racing Commission cannot defy a Supreme Court ruling by delaying compliance.

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And, meanwhile, a petition drive continues by Pope County casino foes for a constitutional amendment to repeal the constitutional requirement for creation of a casino in Pope County.

A statement from Cherokee Nation:

The Arkansas Supreme Court mandate issued today (see attached). A special meeting of the Racing Commission has been scheduled for Friday at 1:30(see attached). Please find below a statement form Dustin McDaniel, legal counsel for Cherokee Nation Businesses.

 

“The Arkansas Supreme Court’s mandate affirms Legends Resort and Casino as the sole qualified applicant for the Pope County casino license. This morning, a representative from Cherokee Nation Businesses accompanied legal counsel to the Arkansas Racing Commission where Executive Director Smokey Campbell stated he was not authorized to present the license and had been so instructed by the Racing Commission. We are in discussions with the Arkansas AG’s Office to ensure Friday’s meeting of the Commission is purely informational and that the Commission clears the way for staff to perform its administrative duties. At the request of the AG’s office, we have agreed to wait until tomorrow to file so that the AG can clearly explain to the Acting Chairman and the Director the effect of the Supreme Court order and the law governing the issuance of the license. It is our sincere hope to receive real assurances by the morning so that we do not have to file suit.” – Dustin McDaniel, legal counsel, Cherokee Nation Businesses

State spokesman Scott Hardin offered this statement in response to my questions about the happenings:

Mr. Campbell was asked by Chairman Lamberth to set up a meeting that will allow the full Commission to receive an update from its legal counsel regarding the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, the mandate issued today and the action required as a result. It was an effort to ensure continued full transparency with requirements met in public view. Vice Chairman Mark Lamberth serves as Chairman for all matters related to Pope County due to Alex Lieblong’s recusal.

The letter:

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