RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) - People in Pope County are voicing concerns about a proposed amendment that could bring casinos to their community.
Many of those concerned residents packed Thursday's quorum court meeting.
"Most of the people here are here because of the values of this community," District 12 Justice of the Peace Joseph Pearson said. The casino initiative would need 84,859 valid signatures to be certified for the ballot. Should that occur, Arkansas voters would vote on a proposal to allow Pope and Jefferson counties to approve new casinos, and to expand gaming options at Oaklawn in Hot Springs and Southland Park in West Memphis.
The building of new casinos would require a "letter of support" from the county judge and mayor in its proposed location.
"We sought to encourage the judge to withhold any letter if the people of Pope County vote against this amendment," Pearson said.
The Pope County Quorum Court unanimously approved the measure during its regular meeting Thursday.
"People in Sebastian County, Faulkner County, Johnson County can make a decision for Pope County, so I felt that was inappropriate and that our voters deserved the option of saying 'yes we want this casino' or 'no we do not,' said Pearson, who sponsored the resolution.
Angie Self was among those in attendance at the meeting who oppose a casino in Pope County. She fears the effect it would have on crime.
"This is a very family friendly place to live, and I want it to continue to be like that," she said.
Driving Arkansas Forward is a committee that supports an amendment authorizing casino gaming in Arkansas. The group collecting signatures for the ballot measure points to the new jobs, tax revenue that could come from new casinos.
Even so, Nate Steel, legal counsel for Driving Arkansas Forward, said the group anticipated at least some local concern.
"I think it's good Pope County is discussing this, that their county government wants to encourage the county judge one way or another," Steel said. "I think that's a great thing; that's exactly what we anticipated. We want to give the county and city leaders the opportunity to decide whether or not they want this," he said.
Friday is the deadline for Driving Arkansas Forward to collect signatures. Steel said the group plans to submit more than the 84,859 required to add the item to the ballot, adding that about 1300 of the signatures are from Pope County.