On Tuesday night, the quorum court in Pope County, Arkansas passed a resolution and endorsed the Cherokee Nation Businesses’ proposed casino, Legends Resort and Casino, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock reported.
The quorum court – which functions basically like a county commission in Arkansas – had a vote of 13 justices of the peace (the state’s equivalent of county commissioners) on the matter. Eight voted in support of the casino, four voted against it, and one abstained.
Initially, five casinos applied for licenses in the county, including the Hard Rock Cafe, but the Arkansas Racing Commission declined all five last June. Later that month, the Racing Commission reopened the process if any of the companies came forward with letters of endorsement by elected officials.
Though the other four casinos were also hoping for an endorsement, as Little Rock ABC television affiliate KATV documented, Pope County Judge Ben Cross stated that Cherokee Nation Businesses were the most cooperative and willing to increase the infrastructure in the county.
Controversy surrounds the decision. A complaint was filed accusing county officials of violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, according to the Democrat-Gazette report. Judge Cross denied those claims Tuesday night. And representatives with the Gulfside Casino Partnership had appealed its rejected application.
Cherokee Nation Businesses partnered with Legends, the stadium management company founded by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to design Legends Hotel and Casino Arkansas. On Monday, as the Courier News in Russellville reported, Cherokee Nation Business CEO Shawn Slaton unveiled the plan for the resort.
Slaton said that the resort — which will be located on about 135 acres of land in Russellville and take about 18 months to build — will bring something for everyone. The proposal includes 50,000 feet of gaming space, a luxury hotel, several restaurants, an outdoor water park and a music venue.
Casino supporters tout the expected economic growth that it will bring. Legends Resort & Casino estimates that the statewide economic effect of the project would exceed $5 billion in the first decade and would directly create more than 1,000 jobs. Little Rock CBS affiliate KTHV reported that an estimated $49 to $67 million would go to Pope and Russellville counties.
In addition, the Democrat-Gazette reports that within 30 days of receiving a casino license, Cherokee Nation Businesses must pay a $38.8 million economic development fee. The fee will be distributed among 17 different entities, including numerous cities in Pope County.
Receiving an official endorsement from elective officials is a big hurdle for the casino to clear, but the road to the project becoming a reality is still rocky. State officials passed Amendment 100 last November, a revision that permitted the building of casinos, and a casino project in Pine Bluff has faced little opposition.
However, Amendment 100 was rejected by voters in Pope County, which passed an ordinance that states a special election must take place before county officials can support a proposal for a casino. A public vote on that matter is expected in the future.