Flag of The Cherokee Nation.

  • Amendment 100, which passed in November of 2018, states that any casino application submitted for Pope or Jefferson County has to be endorsed by local officials.
  • Last week, County Judge Ben Cross and the Quorum Court issued a letter of support for the Cherokee Nation Business to open a casino which could house an AR sportsbook.
  • The Quorum Court is now being sued by ‘Citizens for a Better Pope County’ and the Arkansas Racing Commission is being sued by Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi.

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Earlier this week, the Arkansas Racing Commission reopened the application process for casino operators to develop a full-service casino in Pope County. A decision to allow the Cherokee Nation Businesses and Legends Hospitality to construct a casino in the area seemed all but clear when county Judge Ben Cross and other local officials submitted their letter of endorsement to the Arkansas Racing Commission last week. Interested developers will now have until 5 p.m. on November 18 to submit a proposal to the Arkansas Racing Commission.

“Applications will be provided to Commissioners as they are received. Due to the competitive advantage that would be created by broad release prior to the close of the application period, applications will not be shared publicly until November 18,” said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration.

“If one application is received, a thorough review will be conducted by Commissioners to ensure the requirements of Amendment 100 are met prior to licensing. In the case of multiple application, the Commission must weigh in several factors within each proposal to determine the best fit for Pope County and the state of Arkansas.”

Amendment 100 was passed by voters in November of 2018. The amendment allows casino gaming and Arkansas sports betting to take place at two active racinos as well as future casinos in Jefferson County and Pope County.

While other racinos such as Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort currently offer legal sports betting, the re-application process for a Pope County casino will likely halt any sportsbooks from opening in the area until 2020 at the earliest.

Why Pope County Residents Are Concerned

The endorsement made last week came with many local residents questioning the process in which an operator was chosen. Closed-door meetings were under the microscope during an interview between Pope County Justice of the Peace Doug Skelton and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“Judge Cross scheduled individual meetings with the Quorum Court members,” Skelton said. “He’s not a dummy. He called us into his chambers to go over what the proposals were, and if we liked it, we liked it. If we didn’t, we didn’t. It just so happened that eight people liked the Cherokees.”

However, under the Freedom of Information Act, public governing body meetings are supposed to be open to everyone and the public must be given a notice of at least two hours in advance of any special meetings.

A special prosecutor, requested by the Pope County prosecutor, will be handling a complaint filed against local officials for violating the Act.

Another aspect that local citizens had an issue with was the fact that they were not able to vote on who to endorse before a proposal was submitted to the Arkansas Racing Commission.

After Amendment 100 passed, Pope County voters approved an ordinance that requires local officials to get voter approval before supporting any casino proposal.

Judge Cross, has even gone on record saying that “It will take an election to see what the people of Pope County want before I make any moves on my part.”

Cross, along with members of the Pope County Quorum Court are now being sued by ‘Citizens for a Better Pope County’ for not following through with the ordinance.

A Potential Casino Operator Is Also Filing Suit

Shortly after Amendment 100 passed, Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi submitted a proposal to construct a casino in Pope County. That proposal did in fact have endorsements from local officials, but because those officials are no longer in office, the Arkansas Racing Commission rejected their bid.

Last Thursday the Commission denied the Gulfisde’s appeal of the original rejection, which included letters of endorsement by local officials serving in office during December of 2018.Gulfside is now suing the Arkansas Racing Commission in Pulaski County Circuit Court on the merit that Amendment 100 does not include specific language on the dating requirements for letters.

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