Arkansas Supreme Court denies Cherokee Nation casino license

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The Arkansas Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s decision to deny a casino license to the Cherokee Nation, quashing the tribe’s plans to open a resort in the state. 

Per the Associated Press, the panel of justices voted 5-2 in favor of upholding the lower court’s decision, meaning that the license issued to the Cherokee Nation in 2021 is voided and will be up for grabs to other potential operators. 

Cherokee Nation was aiming to build a casino in Pope County, Arkansas and set up a holding company, Legends Resort and Casino, to facilitate the launch. Consequently, the bid for a license was conducted as a joint bid between Cherokee Nation and Legends Resort and Casino. 

However, this is the center of the legal issues as Gulfside Casino Partnership – a competitor in the bidding process – filed a suit against the decision.

The courts have ruled that the constitutional amendment in 2018 which would allow casinos in the state did not allow for joint bids and dual licensees. 

“Nowhere in the text does it allow for joint or dual licensing to more than one applicant,” the court ruled.

Following the 2018 constitutional amendment, four casinos were approved to open across Arkansas. Three of those have already opened – Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Garland, Saracen Casino Resort in Jefferson and Southland Casino in Crittenden

Yet Pope County was the fourth location approved to get a casino but the process has been marred by legal issues between Cherokee Nation and its competitors. 

After the Supreme Court made its ruling, the Arkansas regulator is now free to pursue a new licensee for the fourth casino. The Arkansas Racing Commission has stated that it will open up a new application process “in a timely manner”. 

Meanwhile, the Cherokee Nation doubled down on its commitment to the Legends Resort and Casino development, hinting that it would once again seek to be licensed. 

Chuck Garrett, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses, commented on the court ruling: We are fully committed to moving forward and working with local and state officials as we have been for the past five years to build Legends Resort & Casino and bring the much-needed economic growth the community and state deserves.”