by Max Brantley
Arkansas Wins in 2016, the ballot committee formed to support passage of a constitutional amendment that would authorize casino gaming in three Arkansas counties, has joined Cherokee Nation Entertainment to announce plans for a new state of the art casino, hotel and entertainment venue in Washington County, Arkansas. Cherokee Nation Entertainment is the Cherokee Nation’s wholly-owned corporate entity that manages the tribe’s gaming, hospitality, entertainment and retail ventures.This prompted questions, several of which I put to Robert Coon, the political consultant working for the casino backers, including potential operators for the other casinos and whether an Indian-run casino could open the door to other tribes that might be intersted in gaming, such as the Quapaw, who now own ancestral land in Pulaski County. His response to all, which skipped over a request for specifics on who's contributed money to the corporate shell in Branson, Mo., listed so far as the primary backer of the amendment:
“Our intention from the outset of this campaign has been for the casinos authorized by this amendment to be operated by well-established, credible firms in the gaming industry. In addition to creating new opportunities for jobs, tourism and economic development, Cherokee Nation Entertainment brings a wealth of experience and a proven track record in the gaming industry to this effort. We believe voters will recognize the value that passage of this amendment will bring to Northwest Arkansas and the entire state,” said Robert Coon, Spokesperson for Arkansas Wins in 2016.
Cherokee Nation Entertainment owns and operates nine casino properties in the state of Oklahoma, consisting of its flagship property, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa as well as eight Cherokee Casinos in Roland, Sallisaw, West Siloam Springs, Tahlequah, Fort Gibson, Claremore, South Coffeyville and Ramona. A tenth is under construction near Grove, Oklahoma on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
Cherokee Nation Entertainment has a significant fiscal impact on the state of Oklahoma in terms of job creation, economic development and gaming fee collections. In the most recent fiscal year, Cherokee Nation Entertainment employed more than 4,000 people, providing a payroll of $182.7 million, invested $45.4 million into job creation and business development efforts and paid $28.4 million in gaming fees to the state of Oklahoma.
“It’s been an interest of ours for many years to leverage our nearly thirty years’ experience in gaming, hospitality and entertainment into markets outside of Oklahoma,” said Shawn Slaton, Chief Executive Officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses, the parent company of Cherokee Nation Entertainment. “This commercial gaming venture is a natural evolution of our business model that will be good for the state, northwest Arkansas and the Cherokee Nation. We employ thousands of people, and are good community partners, and we look forward to extending that into Arkansas.”
Cherokee Nation Entertainment has held a presence in the larger northwest Arkansas market for more than 20 years. Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs along the Arkansas/Oklahoma border already draws many regular visitors from the area.
The proposed project in Washington County would be Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s first gaming, entertainment and hospitality development located outside of tribal land, and would not involve efforts to seek tribal land trust status. In accordance with the amendment, the development would be subject to the laws enacted by the Arkansas General Assembly, regulations promulgated by the Arkansas Gaming Commission, and taxes on net gaming receipts of 18% (eighteen percent) to the State of Arkansas, 0.5% (one-half percent) to Washington County, and 1.5% (one and one-half percent) to the city in which it is located, as well as all other applicable taxes.
“With our nearby facility, we’ve come to understand the market quite well, and are confident we can deliver the type of entertainment and job opportunities that will be well received by the community,” said Chuck Garrett, Executive Vice President of Cherokee Nation Businesses, the parent company of Cherokee Nation Entertainment. “We’re excited about the possibility of investing in a community we are well acquainted with, yet haven’t had a physical presence in to this point. We believe Arkansans will be more than pleased with the jobs and new entertainment options we will provide, and are optimistic that they will support passage of the amendment.”
The company’s flagship resort, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, features a 2,700 seat amphitheater-style concert venue, more than 450 hotel rooms, three full service restaurants, a buffet, food court, 75,000 square feet of meeting space and an 18-hole championship golf course. The size, scope and location of the proposed Washington County project are yet to be determined. A full market analysis to determine appropriate size, amenities and entertainment offerings would be performed prior to any construction.
“We believe that voters have a right to transparency, and will announce any future agreements in the same manner that we’ve announced this one, as they are reached.”
“The principals involved in the Arkansas Wins campaign committee have been working independently in this effort, committing their time and financial resources to seeing this Amendment qualify and pass.”
"Cherokee Nation Entertainment will also be contributing their time and financial resources to our effort. As with any contribution that the committee receives, that information will be disclosed publicly in accordance with Arkansas ethics and campaign reporting requirements.”
“The next reports are due by July 15th.”
[Other Indian casinos enabled?] “No. The amendment expressly authorizes casinos and casino gaming in Arkansas, and is limited to no more than one location in each of the three counties named in the amendment. The Cherokee property in Washington County would be a commercial gaming venture in Arkansas. It will not be on, or require establishment of, tribal land - nor would the other locations require establishment of tribal land in order for a casino to operate.”