The competition for the right to build a casino in Pope County continues, much of it out of plain view.
This is open. The Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi has asked the state Racing Commission to hold a hearing for an appeal of the decision that there were no valid casino permit applications among five considered earlier this month because none included an endorsement from local officials.
Gulfside had endorsement letters from local officials who left office last year. Commission rules and state law say that applications, which weren’t accepted until this year, must include an endorsement from current city or county officials.
The Racing Commission, I’m confident, will not reconsider. Gulfside has said it will sue and claim they meet the constitutional standard with letters from people no longer in office. Meanwhile, there’s no concrete development on a local option election on a casino, required by an arguably unconstitutional county ordinance (the amendment made no provision for a local option election). The county judge says he’d prefer to add the question to a regular election ballot, which would push it to 2020. One report claims the question will appear on the March primary ballot and would ask voters whether — yes or no — they would authorize the county judge to sign a letter in support of a casino.
So there’s all that. There’s also this: Other applicants include an Iowa casino owner; Warner Gaming of Las Vegas, which is partnering with the Hard Rock casino brand; the Cherokee tribe, working with an entertainment group that includes Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and the Choctaw tribe, operator of a nearby casino just across the Oklahoma border from Fort Smith.
This interesting wrinkle turned up on the Pope County Majority Facebook page, which supports a casino in the county. It’s a letter from a Hard Rock executive that Hard Rock has an “exclusive” agreement with Warner.
There’s apparently a theory going around that Hard Rock is a popular choice locally (Pope County voters opposed the casino expansion amendment in 2018 so every little bit helps casino supporters). The theory goes further that one of the other applicants has been trying, on account of the brand magic, to strike a side deal with Hard Rock to make their application look better. The Cherokees figure in this scuttlebutt because they have a Hard Rock-branded operation in Tulsa. So it would appear Warner is attempting to squelch that talk with this letter. Who can say?
There’s a lot of money already being deployed in this because of the expectation that there’s so much more to come. Sadly, the record of money encouraging good government is almost non-existent
Think about this: How would the county judge decide which of the five permits was best for Pope County should he be given authority to make that call?