The state is moving fast on casinos, but the debate over whether or not Pope County will get one continues.
The Racing Commission has been working on a draft for new casino rules and regulations over the last month and small changes to the draft rules could have a major impact.
The casino amendment voters approved in November 2018 allows a new casino to be built in Jefferson County and Pope County, but only if a letter of support is issued by the county judge or quorum court and mayor if in city limits.
"Do we want the current leaders providing letters of support or is it okay to have the outgoing mayor and county judge send it on the last few days in office?" Scott Hardin, Racing Commission spokesperson questioned as the debate for the draft rule change.
The Racing Commission released draft rules and regulations, clarifying the letter can only be issued by the current local leader with a casino's application. Here is how the proposed rule reads:
‘All casino applicants for a casino license in Pope County and Jefferson County are required to submit either a letter of support from the county judge or a resolution from the quorum court in the county where the proposed casino is to be located and, if the proposed casino is to be located within a city or town, are also required to submit a letter of support from the mayor in the city or town where the casino applicant is proposing the casino to be located. All letters of support or resolutions by the Quorum Court, required by these Rules and the Amendment, shall be dated and signed by the County Judge, Quorum Court members, or Mayor holding office at the time of the submission of an application for a casino gaming license.’
“In looking at the amendment, it was just determined that that was the spirit of it, that it was meant to be the leadership at the time," Hardin said.
The outgoing Pope county judge and Russellville mayor issued letters in December just before leaving office, showing support for Gulfside Casino Partnership. Since applications are not being accepted yet, those letters might not count.
“If that change is made, then those letters that were provided by the outgoing mayor and county judge in Pope County, well they're no longer valid," Hardin said.
Gulfside’s attorney, Casey Castleberry, sent us this statement:
“While we are disappointed with this proposed rule change, we have worked tirelessly to comply with the requirements of Amendment 100 and will continue to do so moving forward.”
The new Pope County Judge Ben Cross told us over the phone that he supports this rule revision because of its transparency. He doesn't plan to support a casino because the people there have made it clear they don’t want one.
A Jefferson County letter was also issued, supporting Quapaw Nation. This rule change would require them to reissue that support letter.
Applications will be accepted within the next few months and the Gaming Commission will begin reviewing them by June first.
The Racing Commission will discuss the rules at its meeting Thursday. If approved, there will be a 30 day public comment period.