In the southern American state of Arkansas and the long-running process to pick the operator for a proposed Pope County casino reportedly took another unexpected turn yesterday after regulators announced that they had found bias in last week’s supposedly-final selection vote.
According to a report from the Arkansas Times newspaper, Wednesday saw the Arkansas Racing Commission award the license for the envisioned Pope County casino to an entity known as Gulfside Casino Partnership at the expense of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. However, the losing bidder immediately cried foul by claiming that the four-to-three decision had been unfairly prejudiced by the biased vote of commissioner Butch Rice.
The Arkansas Times reported that the regulator subsequently held a Monday session in which it heard from all sides before unanimously ruling minus Rice that the federally-recognized tribe had been unfairly judged in the previous vote. The newspaper reported that the Commission subsequently moved on to discussing ways of resolving the matter and eventually came up with a trio of proposed solutions.
The regulator reportedly suggested that the Pope County casino license could be awarded using the previous vote but without including Rice’s score, which would see the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma prevail, or hold a new ballot featuring a revised scoring system. The regulator purportedly also proposed that the matter could be sent out to a third-party although this would moreover require the formulation of a new set of selection guidelines.
The regulator ultimately adjourned its Monday meeting without settling on a final fix but did call on the two opposing applicants to meet with the office of Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in hopes of being able to agree a path to resolution.
Whatever path it eventually decides to take, the newspaper reported that the Commission will likely face a legal challenge from the losing bidder whether that be the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma or Gulfside Casino Partnership. The former has already declared that it intends to seek ‘an administrative appeal and a request for injunctive relief from a court’ in regards to the earlier ruling while the latter is purportedly said to be weighing up its legal options should the previous decision be invalidated.
Arkansas Deputy Attorney General Brian Bowen reportedly told the newspaper…
“You’re going to be sued no matter what decision you make by one party or another.”
The idea of bringing a casino to Pope County was made possible in November of 2018 after voters narrowly passed an enabling statewide constitutional amendment to legalize up to four such venues. This has already resulted in Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in the city of Hot Springs as well as West Memphis’ Southland Park Gaming and Racing being transformed into fully-fledged casinos while Oklahoma’s Quapaw Nation is currently in the process of constructing the $350 million first phase of what is to eventually become its Saracen Resort Casino in rural Jefferson County.