Court: Casino backing must come from current officials

October 21, 2021 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said the endorsement required for a casino license must come from elected local officials in office at the time of the application, a key victory for the Cherokee Nation’s efforts to build a casino in the state.

Justices upheld an Arkansas law and state Racing Commission rule on the requirement, reversing a lower court’s decision that they were unconstitutional.

Voters in 2018 approved an amendment requiring the state to allow four casinos. Since then, casinos have opened at racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis, and in Pine Bluff.

One of the applicants for the casino, Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership, submitted its application in 2019 with a letter of support from Pope County’s former judge. Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation Businesses submitted an application with the county’s current judge.


“Today’s ruling is exciting and greatly appreciated,” former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, legal counsel for Cherokee Nation Businesses, said in a statement. “I know CNB is ready to put an end to litigation and start building. We anticipate CNB’s license will be issued as soon as the mandate is effective, and we will work quickly to bring final resolution to any remaining lawsuits”

Gulfside, however, said the legal fight over the casino license was not yet over.

“We are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, but this isn’t the end of the road,” Casey Castleberry, Gulfside’s counsel, said in a statement. “We remain committed to building a first-class entertainment destination in Pope County and bringing good-paying jobs and economic development to the state.”

The casino amendment requires applicants to have a letter of support from the county judge, and a lower court ruled that the Legislature and Racing Commission added to the qualifications by specifying it must be the judge in office at the time of the application. The high court, however, disagreed.

A spokesman for the state Racing Commission said he anticipated the panel would meet after the ruling takes effect. The attorney general’s office said it would discuss next steps with the commission.