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Arkansas Racing Commission sets new deadline for Pope County casino bids

The Arkansas Racing Commission on Monday voted to open a new 30-day application period for the state’s fourth and final casino.

Commissioners decided at Monday’s meeting that both a digital and paper copy of applications for the Pope County casino license must be submitted by June 11. A statewide notice will be published in Sunday’s newspaper, and May 13 will be the first day the commission office will be open to accept applications.

Per new rules drafted by the commission and approved by lawmakers last month, the commission must meet to formally close the application period, so commissioners voted to meet on June 12 to fulfill that requirement.

This marks the commission’s third attempt in five years to issue a permit in Pope County after Arkansans voted to approve four casinos in the state. The courts have voided two previous versions of licenses issued to Gulfside Casino Partnership and Cherokee Nation Business/Legends Resort & Casino.

Casey Castleberry, counsel for Gulfside Casino Partnership, issued a statement following Monday’s meeting:

“We appreciate the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) making it clear the application period will open Sunday and close on June 12. Prior to the ARC’s deadline, we look forward to presenting our proposal to the Pope County Quorum Court and seeking a resolution of support.”

Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Chuck Garrett also issued a statement expressing gratitude for the commission and Arkansas attorney general’s office working “to ensure a smooth process” with the license issuance.

“Having obtained the exclusive support of Pope County Judge Ben Cross as required by Amendment 100 and a resolution of support from the Pope County Quorum Court, we anticipate being the sole qualified applicant,” Garrett said. “We look forward to standing before the Arkansas Racing Commission where we will demonstrate our more than 30 years of experience in gaming and hospitality, as well as our plans for Legends Resort & Casino to be built in Russellville.”

In 2018, voters approved Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution, which permitted four casinos to operate in the state. The first two were written into the amendment: the existing racetracks in West Memphis (Southland) and Hot Springs (Oaklawn).

The third license was issued quickly and without controversy in Jefferson County due to local support for the Quapaw Nation, which opened Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff.

The Pope County license has been unique with local efforts opposing the casino and multiple casino operators interested in the license. Local Voters in Charge, a ballot question committee that formed in January, is pursuing a ballot initiative to repeal authorization for a casino and casino gaming in Pope County, and to require a local option vote for any future potential casino locations.

Attorney General Tim Griffin in March amended and approved the group’s proposed popular name and ballot title, clearing the way for supporters to begin collecting signatures. They have until July 5 to collect 90,704 signatures from registered voters to qualify for a statewide vote on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

The Pope County casino also has its supporters, including a new ballot question committee called Investing in Arkansas. According to paperwork filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission Friday, the group “will advocate for the protection of Arkansas Amendment 100” and promote continued investments and economic development benefits provided because of the amendment.

The committee is chaired by Jennifer McGill, community relations specialist for Cherokee Nation Businesses. Ghidotti Communications president and CEO Natalie Ghidotti is vice chair, and Cale Turner from Bi-Partisan Strategies is treasurer.

Editor's Note: This story Commission approves new Arkansas casino license application period appeared first on Arkansas Advocate.

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.
Arkansas Advocate intends to show how state government affects the lives of everyday Arkansans so they can make informed decisions about themselves, their families and their communities.