state representative asked the Arkansas Racing Commission to hold off on awarding a casino license in Pope County until all lawsuits and investigations are completed, saying any license would be "tainted by corrupt activities." It came after four applicants, including one that already holds an official county endorsement, submitted proposals for a Pope County casino by the noon Wednesday deadline set by the Russellville City Council's gaming review panel.
Rep. Joe Cloud, R-Russellville, in the letter dated Thursday, asked the Racing Commission for its "patience and forbearance in dealing with the conundrum in which Pope County finds itself," according to Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Racing Commission, said that Cloud's letter had not been received at the commission's office as of late Friday.
Pope County voters rejected Amendment 100, passed statewide in November 2018 to allow casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties, and allow the expansion of gambling at the racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis. Pope County voters also approved an initiated county ordinance that would require officials to seek voter approval before backing a casino proposal.
No special election was called before the Pope County Quorum Court passed a resolution on August 13 supporting Cherokee Nation Businesses for a state license to operate a casino there.
"My request to you is that you simply not make any decisions regarding Pope County at this time," Cloud said in the letter. "The people have not had another opportunity to vote on the casino issue as was the clearly expressed desire at the last election and is current law in our county."
There are three lawsuits in state courts concerning the casino issue, as well as complaints filed with a state prosecutor and the Arkansas Ethics Commission that allege wrongdoing by county officials.
The four casino operators that submitted proposals Wednesday — Cherokee Nation Businesses of Oklahoma, Kehl Management of Iowa, Warner Gaming of Nevada and Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce of Oklahoma — were among five that earlier this year submitted applications to the state Racing Commission, which awards casino licenses.
The lone holdout Wednesday was Gulfside Casino Partnership, which sued the Racing Commission after all applicants were rejected in June because none contained endorsements by current local officials. "The response was what was expected," Russellville Mayor Richard Harris said.
Amendment 100, approved by voters in November, allows one new casino each in Pope and Jefferson counties, and allows the expansion of gambling at the racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis. The constitutional amendment requires county official endorsements, as well as from city officials if the casino goes in a city. The commission's rules state the officials must be in office at the time application is made.
The city's Community Gaming Evaluation Committee was given the full proposals Wednesday and the public can either access the documents in person at City Hall or they will be posted soon to the city's website on the "Casino Information" page dedicated solely to the selection process, Harris said.
The committee was set up on Sept. 5 to offer residents an "open and transparent process" after allegations of secret meetings before the Pope County Quorum Court's surprise endorsement in August of Cherokee Nation Businesses. The city also was excluded from sharing in $38.8 million that would be distributed by Cherokee Nation around Pope County under a proposed agreement with the county.
Chuck Garrett, chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses — which proposes to build a $225 million resort outside Russellville — said Wednesday that the company is looking forward to being awarded the Pope County casino license by the state Racing Commission.
"Today, in the spirit of continued transparency, we are pleased to provide public officials and the community at-large with an additional resource containing details of our operating history and proposed world-class project," Garrett said. "We are honored to have received the resolution of support of the Pope County Quorum Court following their comprehensive vetting process in which we and all other potential operators participated."
The state Racing Commission opened a second application window after the county endorsed Cherokee Nation. That window closes on Nov. 18.
The city's committee held a conference call Friday to choose a venue for the public forum Monday for the casino applicants to present their proposals. The final applicant will be selected by the committee by Oct. 14, and the recommendation will be placed on the City Council's Oct. 17 agenda.
The city's endorsement alone does not meet the stipulations of Amendment 100, which states that if the casino is to be placed inside a city limits, the county judge or Quorum Court also must issue an endorsement.