An Arkansas judge voided a state panel’s decision to allow the Cherokee Nation to build a casino in the state, ruling on Thursday that the license was issued in violation of the state’s constitution.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox struck down the license issued in 2021 to Cherokee Nation Businesses, and Legends Resort and Casino — the company set up by the Cherokee Nation — to build a casino in Pope County.
Pope County was one of four sites where casinos were allowed to be built under a constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2018. Casinos have already been set up in the other three locations, but the Pope County license has been tied up in ongoing legal battles.
Fox ruled that the state Racing Commission did not have the authority to issue a license jointly to Legends and Cherokee Nation Businesses. He also ruled that Legends was not eligible for a license since it didn’t have prior casino experience.
Cherokee Nation Businesses said it planned to appeal the ruling, and that construction has not yet begun on the casino.
“While the circuit court’s ruling is disappointing, in the interest of forward progress, we are pleased to have a decision,” Chuck Garrett, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses, said in a statement. “We remain confident in our legal position and will move quickly to have our appeal heard by the Arkansas Supreme Court.”
Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership, a competing applicant, had filed the lawsuit challenging the license.
“Gulfside remains committed to building a first-class entertainment destination in Pope County and bringing good-paying jobs and economic development to Arkansas, and this ruling that Legends was not qualified is a step in that direction,” Lucas Rowan, attorney for Gulfside, said in a statement.
Gulfside had been issued a license for the casino in 2020, but that license was voided after the state Supreme Court said it needed to have the endorsement of current elected officials in the area. The Gulfside application had been submitted with the backing of Pope County’s former judge.