Pope County judge files exclusive letter of support for Cherokee casino

Pope County Judge Ben Cross submitted an updated letter supporting Cherokee Nation Enterprises in obtaining a casino license from the county.

Apr 8, 2024
3 min read
Pope County Judge Ben Cross reiterated his support for opening the casino through Cherokee
Pope County Judge Ben Cross reiterated his support for opening the casino through Cherokee Nation Enterprises, the business arm of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. It's unclear how the Arkansas Racing Commission will review the county's casino license following last week's ruling from the Arkansas Supreme


Limited offer

Learn more

Pope County judge files exclusive letter of support for Cherokee casino

Pope County Judge Ben Cross has submitted an updated letter of support for Cherokee Nation Business (CNB) to obtain the county’s only commercial casino license.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled 5-2 last week that the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) improperly awarded CNB a Pope County gaming franchise because the company applied in partnership with Legends Hospitality.

Arkansas’ statewide gaming referendum passed during the 2018 election required the ARC to only consider applicants from sole proprietorships. To qualify, applicants must also demonstrate experience operating a commercial casino.

Legends is a franchise owned in part by Jerry Jones, an Arkansas native who had no experience operating a casino. This approach, along with the application to work with CNB, resulted in Legends being effectively excluded from participating in the tender process.

"Detailed" case

A 2018 referendum allowed the ARC to issue up to four commercial casino licenses. Amendment 100 provides two licenses for Oaklawn and Southland racinos to become Las Vegas style casinos offering slot machines, table games and sports betting.

The other two licenses are reserved for Pope and Jefferson counties. Jefferson County and Oklahoma's Quapaw Nation teamed up to open a $350 million gaming destination in Pine Bluff called Saracen Casino Resort land.

Gambling licenses in Pope County remain suspended under a state Supreme Court ruling last week. A spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the Arkansas Racing Commission, said the state is reviewing next steps for the "new application period."

Cross said Monday he submitted an updated letter of support for Cherokee Stadium in Russellville in hopes of speeding up a "tedious process" for Pope County citizens.

Amendment 100 requires bidders to first obtain a letter of support from the county’s current judge or quorum court. Cross said the Pope County Common Pleas Court has decided not to support the casino proposal, meaning his letter supporting Cherokee Place will be the only one in the county.

Cherokee Opponent

Cherokee Nation Business and Legends Hospitality are expected to amend their proposals to make CNB the only applicant that meets the requirements of Amendment 100. But Gulfside Casino Partnership, another bidder for the county's license, believes its application will win.

Gulfside originally received its gaming license in 2020. CNB Legends Group successfully appealed and found Gulfside was ineligible because it provided the state with a letter of support from former Pope County Judge Ed Gibson. In December 2018, Gibson expressed support for Gulfside just days before leaving office.

The Cherokees appealed the ARC's grant of the permit to Gulfside to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The Supreme Court noted that Amendment No. 100 reads "the" before "District Judge", implying a current District Judge and not a former or retired District Judge.

The chaos continues

The Pope Casino saga began when Arkansas Racing Commissioner Butch Rice was biased in his ratings of Gulfside and CNB-Legends courses. In reviewing the two competing proposals, Rice gave Gulfside a score of 100/100, while the Cherokee option received just 29 points out of a possible 100.

Rice's deflection resulted in Bayside winning by a combined score of 637-572. Commissioner Rice discovered that he was a friend of Terry Greene, one of Gulfside's two co-founders.

With support from the Attorney General's Office, ARC ultimately issued a casino license to Gulfside. At the time, the Cherokees appealed the decision, arguing that Bayside should never have been considered. No letters of support were provided by the current District Judge or the Full Bench.

Read also:



Limited offer

Learn more