Riverboat leaves Gore area for Arkansas


Thursday, September 25th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. (AP) _ With their hopes of turning a riverboat into a floating casino sunken, the owners of the Southern Star have hoisted anchor and left eastern Oklahoma.

The 214-foot vessel shoved off from its home on the Gore side of the banks of the Arkansas River last week and is now docked at Fort Smith, Ark., authorities said Wednesday.

The riverboat's owners can operate in the Fort Smith area and the vessel is tied up to a permitted area, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials in Arkansas said.

State officials would decide the issue of allowing casino gambling, they said.

The Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa forced the riverboat's owners to move because they didn't have a permit to stay at their Gore location.

A Webbers Falls-based group calling itself the Southern Cherokee Nation first pushed the Southern Star up the river in December. The group wanted to develop the ship into a casino that could employ as many as 400 local residents.

``They came to us dictating they were going to do this and this and this,'' said Ross Adkins, a spokesman for the Army Corps. ``They can't do gambling.''

The Tahlequah-based Cherokee Nation pointed out that the Southern Cherokees weren't a federally recognized tribe.

The Southern Cherokees formed in the 1990s, saying they were legitimized by 19th-century treaties.

Southern Cherokee Nation Chief Gary Ridge didn't return phone calls at his Webbers Falls headquarters.

Dockside Entertainment, a Gastonia, N.C.-based company that would have operated the casino, also has closed its Gore office, officials believe. No one could be reached by phone at that office.

Dockside apparently paid local residents to work on security for the boat and for renovating it, according to previous news reports.

``They had them (residents) really built up to the point where they were getting all excited,'' Adkins said.

``Unfortunately, they were building them up for the wrong reason.''

The McClellan-Kerr Navigation System _ which industrial vessels use to travel between the Mississippi River and the Port of Catoosa _ runs down the middle of the Arkansas River. Corps officials wouldn't allow gambling in that area.

Webbers Falls Mayor Jewell Horne said no town money was spent on the riverboat.

``There's a lot of disappointed folks,'' she said. ``When things aren't meant to be, they aren't meant to be.''