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Racing Commission considering applications for fourth casino


LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Racing Commission on Wednesday advanced one of two applications it received for the state’s fourth and final casino license.

This marks the third time officials have tried to issue the Pope County permit since voters approved casino gaming in 2018, and the outcome is not certain because of potential litigation and a possible ballot initiative.

Cherokee Nation Entertainment and Gulfside Casino Partnership submitted proposals by Tuesday’s deadline, but the commission deemed the latter incomplete because it did not include a letter of support from the county judge or the quorum court, as required by rules governing the process.

CNE received a letter of support from Pope County Judge Ben Cross, while the Pope County Quorum Court last week rejected a resolution of support for Gulfside Casino Partnership.

Commission spokesperson Scott Hardin said Churchill Downs also submitted a letter Tuesday in which a representative of the famed Kentucky racetrack said they were interested in the license, but unable to obtain the requisite letter of support.

The process to award a Pope County casino license has been a years-long battle due to the courts voiding two previous versions of licenses issued to Gulfside and Cherokee Nation Businesses/ Legends Resort & Casino.

Hardin said he anticipates another lawsuit based on past experience awarding the license, as well as the fact that Gulfside submitted its application and paid the $250,000 application fee. Companies that apply but are not awarded the license are entitled to half of the fee as a refund, he said.

Casey Castleberry, counsel for Gulfside Casino Partnership, in an emailed statement said they’re still weighing their options and considering next steps.

“To say this has been competitive in Russellville would be an understatement,” Hardin said. “These companies have really been there since day

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one on the ground trying to garner that support.”

The state’s other three casinos are doing really well, Hardin said, so it’s no surprise organizations have been competitive for what’s sure to be a valuable Pope County casino license.

Voters first approved the operation of four casinos in Arkansas in 2018 with the passage of Amendment 100 to the state Constitution. The first two casinos were written into the amendment: the existing racetracks in West Memphis (Southland) and Hot Springs (Oaklawn).

The third license was issued quickly and without controversy in Jefferson County due to local support for the Quapaw Nation, which opened Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff.

The Pope County license has been unique with local efforts opposing the casino and multiple casino operators vying for the license.

The commission has been “extremely careful to follow everything by the book” to ensure the license can finally be awarded, Hardin said.

Commissioners’ latest attempt started in January when they advanced a set of rules that allowed the opening of a new 30-day application period that began May 12 and ended June 11.

As required by the rules, the commission at Wednesday’s meeting officially acknowledged the closure of the application period, initiated the review process and voted to hire a consultant to review Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s application. Commissioners selected James Fox, whom they’ve worked with previously, at a rate of $300 an hour, but not to exceed $20,000.

They also scheduled a meeting for 11 a.m. on June 27 during which CNE will present its proposal, which will then be evaluated and scored by commissioners. The commission has 30 business days from the conclusion of the application period to award the license. The Pope County permit could be issued as early as the June 27 meeting, but that has not yet been decided, Hardin said.

Once the license is awarded, construction could be delayed by potential litigation. It could also be halted permanently if a ballot initiative to repeal authorization for a casino and casino gaming in Pope County and to require a local option vote for any future potential casino locations is successful.

The effort is led by ballot question committee Local Voters in Charge who has until July 5 to collect 90,704 signatures from registered voters to qualify for a statewide vote on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

If the ballot measure fails and Cherokee Nation Entertainment is allowed to proceed with construction, the organization plans to construct a 50,000-square-foot casino and resort on land northeast of Russellville.

The $300-million investment is expected to have a $5 billion economic impact on Arkansas during the first decade through the creation of thousands of jobs and tax revenue, according to a press release.

CNE President Mark Fulton said in a statement that he expects the 18-month construction process will begin after 60 to 90 days of permitting and pre-construction work.

CNE has a $38.8 million economic development agreement that will be distributed

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to Pope County. The agreement also calls for an annual $2.1 million contribution to a charitable foundation and the Russellville Economic Development Alliance.


Blue & You Foundation awards grants to programs

LITTLE ROCK — The Blue and You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas has announced the funding of more than a dozen programs across Arkansas, totaling more than $1 million. The programs are designed to address various social determinants of health that can impact a person’s whole health.

“At the Blue & You Foundation, we understand the importance of whole-person health. We are committed to supporting the organizations impacting the well-being of Arkansans through social determinants of health by providing healthy foods, economic support and safe housing,” Rebecca Pittillo, Blue & You Foundation president said in the announcement.

Nonprofit and municipal organizations, as well as schools and universities, were eligible for up to $200,000 each.

Recipients in Northeast Arkansas include El Centro Hispano in Jonesboro which received $118,795 for bilingual education to be provided for low-income students in Northeast Arkansas through the La Escuelita and the Hispanic Emerging Leaders Program (H.E.L.P.); and Restore Hope, Inc., based in Little Rock which received $200,000 for its 100 Families Initiative, offering families collaborative case management. The initiative will expand into Mississippi, Independence and Jefferson counties. The funding will also provide direct client assistance with transportation, food, childcare, housing and education needs. Schools, universities, nonprofit groups and municipal organizations that provide programs addressing behavioral health needs can apply for grants up to $200,000 by submitting a letter of intent between July 1-12 at blueandyoufoundationarkansas. org. Mini-grants, up to $2,000, are also available by applying on the Foundation’s website. These funds are awarded on a rolling basis throughout the year.

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