LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — (KTHV) – The Racing Commission is letting the public give their input on proposed draft rules for casinos in Arkansas before voting to approve them.
The commission met Thursday, Jan. 10 to vote to advertise the drafted rules in a statewide newspaper or online publication. The commission voted unanimously to publish the rules and open up a public comment meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, where the committee will then adopt, reject or modify them.
“There's a level of confidence I believe that the citizens should be allowed to have in the process in approving a casino in their community,” Russellville Mayor Randy Horton said.
The racing commission has 120 days to adopt rules for casino licenses (Amendment 100) in Arkansas. This gives them a March 14, 2019, deadline to meet the constitutional amendment when it was passed by the state in November. The casino amendment voters approved allows a new casino to be built in Jefferson and Pope County, but only if a letter of support is issued by the county judge or quorum court and mayor in the city limits.
The list of over 20 draft rules includes rule 2; clarifying the letter of support can only be issued by the current local leader with a casino’s application.
"I think it promotes transparency going forward and a lot of litigation that will ultimately come from either side of this issue, I think this is a good step in transparency by the members of the commission,” Pope County judge Ben Cross said.
The outgoing Pope County judge and Russellville mayor issued letters of support in December just before leaving office. Since letters are not accepted yet, those might not count under the drafted rules.
The current Pope County judge and Russellville mayor were at Thursday’s meeting. Both offered their support of the drafted rule 2. They both previously told THV11 they will not send letters of their own, in large part because of opposition from their constituents. Pope county voters opposed Amendment 100 by a 61-39 percent margin in November.
But Casey Castleberry with Gulfside Casino Partners said the new draft could be detrimental to their application. Since the current Pope county judge and Russellville Mayor have stated they will not offer a letter of support.
"The effect of this new proposed rule could be to limit the only qualified applicant for a casino applicant in pope county,” Castleberry said.
Castleberry also released this statement to THV11 following the meeting:
"Throughout this months-long process, Gulfside has diligently complied with the requirements of Amendment 100. The change in the proposed rules undermines the intent of the constitutional amendment. That said, we remain committed to Pope County and believe River Valley Casino presents a strong case for approval with its high-paying jobs, tax dollars and pledged community support."
No rules were passed at Thursday’s meeting.
The Public comment meeting will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21 at the finance and Administration building in Little Rock.