Cherokee Nation Businesses Still Eyeing Pope County, Arkansas for Casino

Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) CEO Shawn Slaton updated his Tribal Council this week about the Nation’s potential to develop a casino in Pope County, Arkansas, following a voter-approved amendment to the Arkansas State constitution. The Cherokee Nation donated more than $2.2 million to the pro-casino group “Driving Arkansas Forward,” according to Arkansas Ethics Commission records.

In November, Arkansas voters passed an amendment to legalize four casinos: in Jefferson and Pope counties, at a West Memphis dog track and a Hot Springs horse track. CNB is eyeing Pope County, as the Quapaw Nation has its sights set on Jefferson County, ere local leaders are backing the Tribe. Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Jefferson County Judge Booker Clemons endorsed the Quapaw Tribe in letters in December, announcing their exclusive support for Downstream Development Authority.

RELATED: Local Arkansas Officials Support Quapaw Nation Plans to Open Commercial Casino

Slaton informed the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council of a Mississippi-based company’s intention to build a three-phase, $250-million resort casino in Pope County—a move that was endorsed by outgoing Pope County Judge Jim Ed Gibson in a letter, and subsequently opposed by Pope County Judge-elect Ben Cross, who doesn’t intend to issue letters of support for any potential casino operators, reported KATV.com. Gulfside Casino Partnership, which operates Island View Casino Resort in Mississippi, would open Pope County River Valley Casino by mid-2020, pending regulatory approval, the company has publicly stated.

“As it stands now, the racing commission adopted Rule No. 2, which said that before an application can be considered for a license, you had to have a current letter of support from the current judge and the current mayor,” Slaton told the Council, reported the Cherokee Phoenix. “Based upon the reaction and the furor over how that was done, I believe that might be hard to get for them.”

Slaton previously noted that the opportunity in Russellville, Pope County, “is certainly appealing to us. That said, the climate in Pope County is a little different in that a majority of the citizens who voted in the recent election there are opposed to a casino.” (Pope County voters opposed a casino by 60 percent, whereas approximately 56 percent of Arkansas voters approved the statewide amendment. A Pope County ordinance also mandates a local election before the county judge can write a letter of support for a casino.)

“Should the citizens of Pope County decide they would like a casino in their county, Cherokee Nation Entertainment would like the opportunity to be the licensed operator,” Slaton has previously said—and the intention remains.  

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