Gulfside Casino Partnership Accuses Arkansas Officials of Bias in Pope County License Dispute

Gulfside Casino Partnership accusing Arkansas officials
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Gulfside Casino Partnership Accuses Arkansas Officials of Bias in Pope County License Dispute

Gulfside Casino Partnership has filed a lawsuit in Arkansas’ Pulaski County Circuit Court, alleging that state officials colluded with a rival bidder to unfairly award a casino license in Pope County. The Mississippi-based Gulfside, owned by riverboat casino pioneers Terry Green and Rick Carter, claims that local officials used coercive tactics to favor the Cherokee Nation Entertainment (CNE) over their own $405 million proposal for the River Valley Casino Resort in Russellville.

Allegations of Coercion and Collusion

The lawsuit asserts that Pope County Judge Ben Cross and the Pope County Quorum Court manipulated the selection process to ensure that CNE’s $300 million Legends Resort & Casino proposal would be the chosen project. According to Gulfside, the 2018 ballot referendum that authorized a single casino license in Pope County required applicants to secure a letter of support from the current county judge or a resolution from the county quorum court. Gulfside alleges that Cross and the quorum court conspired to disqualify their bid in favor of the Cherokee proposal.

Gulfside’s complaint details how Cross and a majority of the quorum court allegedly backed CNE’s bid in exchange for a $38.88 million “economic development fee” designated for Pope County’s governmental entities. This move, according to Gulfside, was a clear attempt to ensure the Cherokee project advanced while sidelining their own superior proposal.

A History of Legal Battles

The contention over the Pope County casino license dates back to 2019 when Gulfside was initially declared the winner based on the Arkansas Racing Commission’s (ARC) grading. However, the ARC later found that one of its commissioners had shown bias by giving Gulfside a perfect score while scoring the Cherokee proposal significantly lower.

The case escalated to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which ruled against Gulfside on the grounds that their letter of support came from a former county judge rather than the sitting judge. This decision led the ARC to award the license to Legends, but Gulfside successfully appealed, arguing that the Cherokee bid also violated rules by applying as a consortium rather than a single entity.

Gulfside’s Argument

In its current lawsuit, Gulfside contends that the Economic Development Agreement (EDA) between Cross, the quorum court, and CNE was designed to guarantee exclusive support for the Cherokee proposal. Gulfside argues that this exclusivity violates the spirit of the constitutional amendment, which allows for multiple applicants each with a letter of support.

The company highlights that their proposal offered greater benefits to Pope County, including a higher economic development fee of $65 million, 20,000 square feet more gaming space, 300 additional slot machines, 18 more table games, and 100 extra hotel rooms compared to the Cherokee’s Legends project.

Seeking Judicial Intervention

Gulfside’s lawsuit requests the court to invalidate the EDA with CNE, nullify Judge Cross’ letter of support, and the quorum court’s resolution favoring the Cherokee bid. Additionally, Gulfside seeks to have the ARC’s decision to award the Pope County casino license to Cherokee Nation Entertainment overturned.