by Tyler Hale
A proposed Pope County casino is estimating that it will have a $3 billion impact in Arkansas during its first 10 years of operation.
According to Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB), a new study conducted by consulting firm Economic Impact Group (EIG) has shown that the Legends Resort & Casino will have an immediate and substantial impact on the local economy in Pope County and the broader region.
“In forming our plans for Legends Resort & Casino, we turned to a network of experts to help us understand how this project would impact the region’s economy,” Chuck Garrett, CEO, Cherokee Nation Businesses, said in a statement. “It was fitting for us to engage this research through Dr. Russell Evans and EIG who are already very familiar with current CNB operations.”
One of the areas the study focuses on is job creation and growth. The casino expects to create 1,750 jobs in the area – both directly and indirectly once it becomes operational. The employment numbers are expected to grow to 21,000 jobs in Pope county and its surrounding area over the course of 10 years.
In the first year of operation, Legends is expected to disburse $43.3 million in employee income and a total of $530 million over its first 10 years. The EIG report “conservatively” estimates that the casino will have a $3.15 billion impact during that time frame.
The casino issue has been a polarizing one for Pope County. In the November 2018 election, Arkansas voters voted in favor of Issue 4, which expanded casino gaming at Southland Park in West Memphis and Oaklawn in Hot Springs, as well as creating a casino in Pope County and Jefferson County. Arkansas citizens passed the measure by 54.1 percent to 45.9 percent.
Codified into law as Amendment 100, the measure called for the Pope County casino to be located within two miles of Russellville. As part of the application, casinos would have to pay an application fee, demonstrate experience in casino gaming and obtain a letter of support from the country judge, a quorum court resolution, or a letter of support from a mayor if the casino was within a municipality.
However, Pope County voted overwhelmingly against the measure – nearly 70 percent voted against the measure in the county.
Legends Resort & Casino is currently stalled as the Pope County casino license is being fought over in court. Five companies vied for the Pope County casino license but were rejected. One company, Gulfside Casino Partners, has taken legal action against the Arkansas Racing Commission after its application – which had a letter of support from Pope County’s former county judge – was not accepted. However, the Pope County Quorum Court later voted to give its support to CNB during a second round of applications.
Pope County voters will now have to decide a bond issue in the March 3 primary. The vote will determine if the county will use expected casino revenue to pay for capital improvements, including a new jail.