Commission Authorizes New Application Period for Casino Licenses in Arkansas

A woman is using a gambling machine at a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The image is credited to Spencer Platt/Getty Images. This story was updated on May 6, 2024 at 5:25 p.m. to include comments from Cherokee Nation Businesses.

The Arkansas Racing Commission has decided to allow a new 30-day period for people to apply for the state’s fourth and last casino.

During Monday’s meeting, the commissioners made a decision that anyone interested in applying for the Pope County casino license must submit both a digital and paper copy of their application by June 11. The commission office will start accepting applications on May 13. A notice about this will be published in Sunday’s newspaper across the entire state.

The commission has created new rules that were approved by lawmakers last month. According to these rules, the commission must have a meeting to officially end the application period. Therefore, the commissioners have decided to meet on June 12 to fulfill this requirement.

The commission has made three attempts in the past five years to issue a permit in Pope County. This is because the people of Arkansas voted to approve four casinos in the state. The courts have cancelled two previous versions of licenses that were given to Gulfside Casino Partnership and Cherokee Nation Business/Legends Resort & Casino.

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Casey Castleberry, who represents Gulfside Casino Partnership, released a statement after the meeting on Monday:

“We are grateful that the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) has clarified that the application period will start on Sunday and end on June 12.” Before the ARC’s deadline, we are excited to present our proposal to the Pope County Quorum Court and ask for their support.

The CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses, Chuck Garrett, also released a statement expressing appreciation for the commission and the Arkansas attorney general’s office for their efforts in ensuring a smooth process for issuing the license.

“We have received the necessary support from Pope County Judge Ben Cross, as required by Amendment 100, and a resolution of support from the Pope County Quorum Court. Therefore, we expect to be the only eligible applicant,” Garrett said. “We are excited to present our 30+ years of experience in gaming and hospitality, as well as our plans for building Legends Resort & Casino in Russellville, to the Arkansas Racing Commission.”

In 2018, voters agreed to Amendment 100 of the Arkansas Constitution, which allowed four casinos to open in the state. The first two racetracks included in the amendment are the ones in West Memphis (Southland) and Hot Springs (Oaklawn).

The third license was issued in Jefferson County without any problems because the local community supported the Quapaw Nation, who opened the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff.

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The Pope County license has been special because some people in the area don’t want a casino, but there are also many casino operators who want the license. Local Voters in Charge is a committee that was created in January. They want to have a vote to get rid of the permission for a casino and casino games in Pope County. They also want to make sure that any future potential casino locations have to be voted on by the local community.

In March, Attorney General Tim Griffin made changes to and gave approval for the group’s suggested name and title for the ballot. This allows supporters to start gathering signatures. They need to collect 90,704 signatures from registered voters by July 5 in order to have a statewide vote on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

The Pope County casino has some people who support it, including a new group called Investing in Arkansas. According to documents submitted to the Arkansas Ethics Commission on Friday, the group’s goal is to support and protect Arkansas Amendment 100. They also aim to promote investments and economic development benefits that have resulted from the amendment.

Jennifer McGill, who is a community relations specialist for Cherokee Nation Businesses, is the chairperson of the committee. Natalie Ghidotti, the president and CEO of Ghidotti Communications, is the vice chair. Cale Turner from Bi-Partisan Strategies is the treasurer.

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