Today was the deadline, at 5 p.m., for filing of applications to operate casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties under the amendment approved by voters last year and a crush developed for the Pope County permit.
At day’s ed, a corporate arm of the Quapaw tribe was the only application for a permit in Jefferson County and that application enjoys support from local officials.
In Pope County, no applicant has approval from current local officials as state Racing Commission rules provide.
In Pope County, a Mississippi casino corporation had filed an early application with support from a county judge and Russellville mayor who left office at the end of the year. Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration, told us early in the day that another application was received today from the Cherokee tribe, which operates casinos in Oklahoma. He said other applications are expected today. Warner Gaming of Las Vegas said it hopes to win the permit. The Choctaw tribe, which operates a casino across the state line from Fort Smith, also has expressed interest.
UPDATE: A news release confirms the Warner-related application was filed. It is by Tri-Peaks Entertainment Group, LLC, a partnership between casino operators Warner Gaming and Peninsula Pacific. The extensive release detailed a $230 million plan including a Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in rural Pope County. It includes a Bo Jackson-branded sports complex and RV park. It also promises to donate 2 percent of gambling revenue annually to a foundation guided by Pope County citizens.
The applications will be private until considered by the Commission. Legal fights seem likely. In Pope County, officials have said until now they will abide by local law that requires a vote before a casino application can be approved. Casino operators think that local law may be unconstitutional. The Mississippi casino operators have said they challenge the interpretation that only approval of current officeholders will be accepted.
The descriptions of major building projects, economic development and charitable contributions by all the participants are meant, of course, to soften local resistance to a casino. County voters opposed the constitutional amendment and adopted the local ordinance at the same election. Any goodwill developed would enter the picture when and if either a local referendum is held or a court says it can’t be held. Then elected officials will be on the spot.
FINAL UPDATE: A surprise development, with a total of five applications for the Pope County permit, including a group we haven’t mentioned previously. Said Hardin:
Four additional applications were received today for the Pope County license. The Cherokee Nation, Tri-Peaks Entertainment Group LLC (Hard Rock Hotel and Casino), Robert and Ruth Kehl Family (River Ridge Casino Resort) and the Choctaw Nation visited the offices of the Arkansas Racing Commission today to submit applications.
The Arkansas Racing Commission will meet June 13 to consider each application. The Downstream Development Authority application includes letters of support from current Jefferson County leaders while Gulfside included letters from the former Russellville Mayor and Pope County Judge. Letters of support from the current Mayor or County Judge were not included in the four applications submitted today.
Below please find the final list of applicants.
POPE COUNTY LICENSE:
- Gulfside Casino Partnership
- Cherokee Nation
- Tri-Peaks Entertainment Group LLC (Hard Rock Hotel and Casino)
- Robert and Ruth Kehl Family (River Ridge Casino Resort)
- Choctaw Nation
The River Ridge resort is a new one for us. The Kehls operate four riverboat casinos — three in Iowa and one in Missouri.
Pope County residents are going to get a lot of love in the days ahead from would-be bringers of riches. What’s your bet? Pass/don’t pass?