The judicial system has begun to grind in the matter of a casino in Pope County.

Circuit Judge William Pearson has set a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 23 in Russellville on the request by the Gulfside Casino Partnership to return its lawsuit over the casino to Pulaski County. On his own volition, Pulaski Circuit Judge Tim Fox had ordered the case sent to Pope County, which he said would be more efficient.

Gulfside, which contends it filed a valid application for a casino in Pope County based on support last year from local elected officials who left office at the end of 2018, says appeals of administrative decisions MUST be heard in Pulaski County.

Gulfside is challenging a state Racing Commission rule that says casino permit applications are valid only when supported by current officeholders. The Pope County Quorum Court has endorsed the Cherokee tribe’s proposal to build a casino, which includes a promise of $38.8 million in payments to local governments.

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The hearing on Gulfside’s motion also will cover a request by the Cherokee tribe to be allowed to intervene in the suit.

A separate lawsuit, on which no hearing has yet been set, is also pending in Pulaski County before Judge Wendell Griffen. It says the Cherokee application is flawed because the Quorum Court endorsement should be held invalid. That lawsuit says a local vote is required first under an ordinance approved by Pope County voters in November.

The Racing Commission is taking applications through early November. Only the Cherokees have applied so far. Four other contenders say the process hasn’t been fair because the Quorum Court endorsed the Cherokee proposal without hearing from others or even debating the matter in public. Separately, a special prosecutor is supposed to consider a complaint that members of the Quorum Court violated the Freedom of Information Act by discussing the casino proposal in private, without public notice.