JOHNSON COUNTY, Ark. — Pope County doesn't want a casino, so now their neighbors in Johnson County are exploring if it would be a good fit for them.
Voters passed the casino amendment in November, which would allow new casinos to go in Jefferson County and Pope County. Jefferson County is on board, but Pope County isn’t. This leaves a license unused.
In November 2018, 56 percent of Johnson County voters voted in favor of casinos coming to Arkansas. That’s why Johnson County Judge Herman Houston wants to give people a chance to share their thoughts.
“I decided as county judge, it’s my responsibility to bring different ideas," Houston said.
He called a special meeting Tuesday, Jan. 15 for people to ask questions, and give their opinions.
“It did bring a lot of people in, let me assure you," Houston said.
Houston is neutral in the issue and is looking into a resolution that would show the county's support to amend Arkansas Amendment 100, giving Johnson County rights to a casino license. The next public comment meeting is Thursday, Feb. 14. If the quorum court then votes to pursue a casino, Houston would give his support.
“I’ll do whatever their pleasure is," Houston said.
Clarksville's mayor already issued a letter expressing his full support for a casino.
“We don’t want to be stale or go backwards," said Houston. "We want to go forwards in this community."
Since Pope County isn't interested, Gulfside Casino is now speaking with Johnson County about locating there.
“The city owns 100 and some acres out on the interstate," Houston said.
The casino amendment clearly states new licenses would only be issued to Pope County and Jefferson County, so trying to get one somewhere else would bring on legal challenges. There is some gray area and debate over whether Johnson County can legally make this happen even if they wanted to, but the amendment does leave room for the legislature to change it as long as it quote: 'fulfills the purposes of the amendment'.
Because Pope County has made it clear they don’t want it, this may allow the house and senate to replace the county with two-thirds approval.
“It’s something that needs to be explored if we're interested in it," Houston said.
Johnson County formed a committee to look into the positives and negatives on how a casino would affect the community and they're working on a report to present to the quorum court.