A Pulaski County Circuit Court judge has ruled that the Gulfside Casino Partnership’s application for the Pope County casino must be considered by the Arkansas Racing Commission.
Judge Tim Fox has ruled that the Gulfside Casino Partnership is an eligible applicant and that the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) unconstitutionally excluded Gulfside from the selection process for the Pope County casino license.
In a court order dated March 24, 2020, Fox declared that an ARC rule governing letters of support was unconstitutional. Amendment 100, which authorized the creation of two new casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties, requires all casino applicants to submit a letter of support from the county judge or a resolution from the county’s quorum court.
When applying for the casino license, Gulfside obtained a letter of support from Pope County Jim Ed Gibson in support of its planned three-phase $250-million resort casino. However, Gibson was defeated in the 2018 election by current Pope County Judge Ben Cross before the Racing Commission voted on the license. Cross did not support the Gulfside casino application.
The Racing Commission established its own rules governing the qualifications for casino applicants. Under the commission’s rules, applicants are required to submit letters of support from the county judge/quorum court/mayor that are “holding office at the time of the submission of an application for a casino gaming license.”
As a result, the commission denied its application. It also denied the applications of all five casinos that sought the license in June 2019. Applications were reopened in late August of 2019 after the Pope County Quorum Court voted to endorse Legends Resort and Casino, a $225 million project backed by Legends and the Cherokee Nation Businesses.
This application period, though, was abandoned after Gulfside filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court to rule on its application.
In a Response to Motion for Summary Judgement, Gulfside argued that the Racing Commission nor the Arkansas General Assembly had the “authority to add a requirement not contained in a constitutional amendment” or to “interpret or clarify a constitutional amendment.” The partnership requested the court find the rule unconstitutional and to reverse the commission’s denial of its application.
Fox agreed with the request, instructing the Racing Commission to abide by the language of Amendment 100 and consider Gulfside’s application. Fox struck the Racing Commission’s rule on elected officials down as a violation of Amendment 100.
Following the announcement of Fox’s ruling, Gulfside Casino Partnership co-owner Terry Green released a statement, saying that Gulfside is prepared to begin work on the Pope County casino if selected.
“For more than three decades, we have been strong community partners to the Gulf region by generously supporting schools, first responders, nonprofits and economic development efforts,” he said. “We’re ready to immediately break ground on the $254-million River Valley Casino Resort, which will support 1,500 permanent jobs, $29 million in annual gaming tax revenue—50 percent more than other proposals—and an estimated payroll of more than $60 million.