Tribe suing rival company over casino annex in Pope County

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) — An Oklahoma tribe has sued a rival company and the Arkansas Racing Commission in an effort to stop a smaller annex casino from being built.

Attorneys for Cherokee Nation Businesses filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Pope County Circuit Court against Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi and the commission, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. It comes after the tribe lost its bid for Pope County's sole casino permit in June.

The suit seeks to halt Gulfside’s plan to open a 33,400-square-foot (3,100-square-meter) casino on its property near Russellville while it continues building a larger, 80,000-square-foot casino (7,430-square-meter) and a 500-bed hotel.

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the seven-member commission, said via email that the panel had not received an application for the annex and a date had not been set to consider a proposal.

The Cherokees' lawsuit is the latest legal action involving the Pope County permit, which was one of four casino licenses that Arkansas voters approved in 2018.

The commission lacks rules to authorize such a temporary project, according to the tribe's' lawyers, who allege that the proposed annex would be on tracts of land not covered by Gulfside’s license. County Judge Ben Cross, who backed the Cherokee's proposal to build a casino and hotel complex, is also named as a plaintiff in the suit.

A representative for Gulfside, Casey Castleberry, defended the proposal in a statement Tuesday by noting another casino annex opened last year close to the planned Saracen Casino Resort that the Quapaw Nation constructed in Pine Bluff.

“This is an issue for the Arkansas Racing Commission, not the courts,” Castleberry said. “Like (Saracen) in Pine Bluff, Gulfside’s River Valley Annex would provide nearly 300 jobs and millions in revenue for the City of Russellville during the construction of our first-class resort. This lawsuit has no merit and would only serve to stifle future economic growth.”

Gulfside's proposed annex will include about 500 slot machines and eight gaming tables along with a restaurant, Castleberry added.

In July, the commission rejected the tribe’s appeal of their decision to award the license to Gulfside, though the panel has not yet issued its final conclusions.

Lawyers for the Cherokees said they will seek more appeals through the courts if that administrative appeal remains unsuccessful.

“While there are many legal proceedings left in this process, our commitment to Pope County and securing the casino license has never been greater,” Chuck Garrett, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses, said in a statement.