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August 06, 2020

If Cherokee Nation Businesses is awarded the casino license there, county judge says

Arkansas: Pope County casino land to be voluntarily annexed into Russellville city

Arkansas: Pope County casino land to be voluntarily annexed into Russellville city
Ben Cross, county judge of Pope County, made the announcement Thursday during a joint meeting of the Quorum Court and the City Council.
United States | 12/16/2019

The move would give the city the largest split of gambling revenue. The key of the agreement is a bond issue set to go before the voters March 3, which would take advantage of municipalities or counties' right to pledge casino gaming revenue for repayment of local government bonds.

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and earmarked for a casino in Pope County will be voluntarily annexed into Russellville, giving the city the largest split of gambling revenue, if Cherokee Nation Businesses is awarded the casino license there, Ben Cross, county judge of Pope County, said Thursday during a joint meeting of the Quorum Court and the City Council, including Russellville Mayor Richard Harris

According to state law, Cherokee Nation Businesses must first ask the city to annex the land in the northeast quadrant of the county off of Hob Nob Road, then Cross has to approve it before it becomes part of the city, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

The casino topic has been a source of division in the area since Amendment 100 was approved by state voters in November 2018. The amendment allows a casino in both Pope and Jefferson counties with the backing of local officials, and expansion of gambling at the racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis.

Under Amendment 100, 19.5% of the net casino gaming receipts would go to the city or town in which the casino is located and 8% to the county. If the casino is solely in the county, all 27.5% would go to the county.

On Thursday’s meeting, Cross presented a draft of a seven-page interlocal agreement between the county and the city. The city has been at odds with the county since the Quorum Court on Aug. 13 endorsed Cherokee Nation Businesses for the license.

The gaming amendment was rejected by Pope County voters, but officials of five casinos began courting people in the area after the election. Casino supporters were vocal they wanted one in the area, and then county officials reviewed casino proposals to decide which one to back.

The centerpoint of the agreement is a bond issue set to go before the voters March 3 — the same date as the primary and judicial elections — which would take advantage of Act 703 of 2019 allowing municipalities or counties to pledge casino gaming revenue for repayment of local government bonds. The county, in the agreement, would pledge up to 80% of both the city's and county's portions of casino revenue to repay the bond.

Cross laid out the details of five proposed projects from which voters can choose all or none to pay for with the bond proceeds. All of the projects will be built on "free land," Cross said, meaning property already owned by either the city or the county.

Councilman Chris Olson asked Cross what happens to the $27.6 million upfront money the county gets from a $38.8 million Economic Development Agreement that Cross negotiated with Cherokee Nation Businesses before the Quorum Court's endorsement in August. Cross said a list of projects for that money — which will come if Cherokee Nation Businesses is awarded a casino license by the state Racing Commission — will be unveiled in January.

The projects covered by the bond will "generate Russellville tax revenue," Cross said. Justice of the Peace Bill Sparks, who voted against endorsing Cherokee Nation Businesses, asked Cross if taxes would be raised if the city couldn't pay for the increased operating costs. Cross said that's not likely to happen because of the economic growth sure to come with the casino resort.

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