Arkansas court denies motions to dismiss Legends Resort lawsuit

Pulaski Courthouse - Little Rock, Arkansas

Pulaski Courthouse - Little Rock, Arkansas

The Pulaski County Circuit Court in Arkansas, the United States, has denied motions to throw out a lawsuit challenging plans to build a Legends Resort & Casino in Pope County. According to reports, Judge Wendell Griffen denied the two motions filed separately by the Arkansas Racing Commission and the Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC on the grounds of lack of “sovereign immunity”. This judgment would mean the lawsuit against both entities would proceed without hitches.

The lawsuit against the Arkansas Racing Commission and the Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC was filed by John ‘Cliff’ Goodin, a Pope County citizen. He claimed that the $225 million Legends Resort & Casino development, situated in Russellville and projected to be completed by 2024, is illegal because the licensing process went against Amendment 100.

READ: Arkansas anti-casino group has Pope County petition rejected

In 2018, citizens of Arkansas voted for a referendum that amended a provision in the state’s constitution which would enable four casinos to be built in the state. This was the same amendment that brought Oaklawn Racing & Gaming, Southland Park Gaming & Racing and the soon-to-be-opened Saracen Resort Casino in Jefferson County. One of the amendment’s provisions stipulated that licenses can only be issued to casinos that can “demonstrate experience conducting casino gaming”.

However, as at the time Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC was awarded a license by the Arkansas Racing Commission last November, Legends Resort had only been created four months prior. Though Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC was a recognized player in the casino industry, the just-birthed Legends Resort had little proven casino experience, invariably making it a “non-applicant”. This is the basis of Goodin’s claims.

In retaliation, the Arkansas Racing Commission filed to scuttle the lawsuit on grounds that a state agency cannot be sued, and the operator argued that the plaintiff’s claims were flawed because it was the only qualified applicant at the time. But after close examinations of arguments from both parties, Judge Griffen ruled that “sovereign immunity” will not cover the commission because it was “acting illegally” by issuing a license to a company with no previous experience. Besides, since Goodin was not seeking for “declaratory or injunctive relief”, his claims were not subject to the “sovereign immunity” defense. The judge also added that Goodin was a taxpayer of the state and so has every right to stand against the development.

Judge Griffen concluded that Goodin’s lawsuit would go on and any other positive judgment it gets would make Legends Resort’s license invalid and “any rights asserted by the purported licensee rendered null and void”.

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