Lame duck Russellville Mayor Randy Horton said in a letter released today by a Mississippi casino operator that he believes the Mississippi group would be the best pick to operate a casino in Pope County under the new amendment that expands casino gambling in Arkansas. Does it have any legal impact? Good question.
Horton joins outgoing County Judge Jim Ed Gibson in expressing support for the Gulfside Casino Partnership, related to a group that operates a casino on the Mississipi Gulf Coast.
Under the amendment, only approval from a county judge or mayor, depending on location, is necessary for approval of a casino application in Jefferson or Pope County under the new amendment. But casino regulations have not yet been adopted by the state Racing Commission and thus no applications have been filed. Both Gibson and Horton leave office today.
Horton largely dodged where he stood on the casino amendment during his election campaign (though he expressed at one point sentiment voters should decide), but Richard Harris, who soundly defeated Horton in the runoff, opposed a casino. Pope County voters opposed the constitutional amendment expanding gambling, though only statewide approval counted. They also approved an ordinance — likely to be challenged in court — that requires a local referendum before a casino could be built in Pope County.
Add Horton’s expression of support to the bubbling legal and political stew. The Cherokee tribe spent heavily in backing the amendment and is interested in a casino in Pope County but has emphasized a desire to work with the local community to persuade them of economic benefits. The Gulfside group, on the other hand, while also touting economic benefits has said directly that the casino ordinance is unconstitutional.
Casey Castleberry, local attorney for Gulfside issued a statement with the release of Horton’s letter by a PR firm:
For months now, Gulfside has presented its case for how it will help boost the local economy, create good-paying jobs and keep tax dollars here in Arkansas. This letter reiterates the strong support it has received from local community and business leaders in Pope County.
I’m guessing the group that pushed the anti-casino referendum to the ballot and easy passage might quarrel with the level of local support. Questions have already been raised about whether any statements issued now by a county judge or mayor can continue if their successors revoke them. It remains to be seen how the Racing Commission will view such circumstances. A lawsuit has been filed on the issue and an attorney general’s opinion request is also pending.
Gulfside, which spent about $60,000 on the casino amendment campaign, emerged last week as something of a surprise with a full-blown plan for a casino backed by the outgoing county judge.